Monday, March 2, 2009

Andrew Reads: A SNOWBALL IN HELL, by Christopher Brookmyre

So the library manages to get this relatively new Brookmyre novel on the shelves prior to the last one, ATTACK OF THE UNSINKABLE RUBBER DUCKS--a book that, as yet, I've never encountered during a period when I had enough money to purchase it. Thanks a bunch, EPL.

I suppose I shouldn't complain--at least I did manage to get a Brookmyre fix without having to pay for it. Not that I'd have minded in this case, as it's a thoroughly enjoyable action adventure with some really neat twists and turns, all delivered with Brookmyre's trademark black sense of humour.

The plot revolves around three characters from previous novels: Simon Darcourt, the criminal mastermind terrorist-for-hire from A BIG BOY DID IT AND RAN AWAY; magician/bank robber Zal Innez from THE SACRED ART OF STEALING; and DI Angelique de Xavia from A BIG BOY DID IT AND RAN AWAY and THE SACRED ART OF STEALING.

Having survived events at the end of "Big Boy", Darcourt's spent the last several years in hiding, both from the authorities and one-time supporters who wouldn't be happy to discover he's not dead. He returns to public notice in a spectacular fashion, kidnapping public figures and subjecting them to various nasty but poetically just fates, all on camera for the viewing public, reality-tv show style.

I can't help but think there's a certain degree of sadistic wish fulfillment for the writer (there's definitely some for this reader) in the selection of Darcourt's targets. Darcourt's a self-absorbed sociopath, but he's an elitist self-absorbed sociopath, striking out at what even rational people might see as parties contributing to the decline of modern culture while using their own tools to expose the hypocrisy of the unwashed masses.

Still, one can't let people kill other people based on how many inches coverage they receive in the newspaper. And who better to help stop Darcourt than the person who kicked his ass the last time he showed his face? Enter DI de Xavia, who's just completely blown any chance she'll have of ever infiltrating another extremist muslim terrorist group by shooting one during a raid in a mosque.

She returns to Scotland to assist the effort to capture Darcourt. When her parents are captured by unknown forces (presumably the non-law enforcement people who're pissed off to discover Darcourt's still breathing), she's forced to work as a double agent, communicating privileged information on the investigation back to the kidnappers.

With all other options exhausted, de Xavia turns to the one manwho might be able to help her deal with her various problems without getting her or her loved ones killed--Zal Innez, who's abandoned his life of crime in favour of performing magic. Well, he's tried to abandon it, anyway--the bank he stole from in "Sacred Art" still has people looking for him, as do the criminals he betrayed after the robbery.

de Xavia and Innez are still smarting from the doomed affair they began a few years back in their previous appearancce together. Both know the other's lifestyle precludes any hope of a future together, but that doesn't mean they don't care about each other. Far from it--as soon as de Xavia shows up, Zal immediately drops his budding illusionist career in order to help her. He also plans to vanish as soon as she and her family are safe--for her own good.

It takes awhile for Brookmyre to get all the pieces of his story in place, but that's all right, as he keeps things entertaining and moving at a brisk pace until the dominos start falling. And when they do fall, it's a joy to read.

If I recall correctly, my biggest complaint with The Sacred Art of Stealing was that Brookmyre didn't play entirely fair with the reader--he presented surprise plot twists as though they were the result of misdirection, when readers weren't misdirected, they were just uninformed, not given the information necessary to guess what was coming. That's not the case here at all. The motivations and plans of the various characters are generally there on the page, but the author repeatedly manages the neat literary sleights of hand, revealing all is not what it seems to be without it ever feeling like he's cheated.

It's a really delightful book, in my opinion one of, if not the, strongest one of Brookmyre's I've read to date. Now I just need to find a copy of "Unsinkable Rubber Ducks"...


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