Where the Bodies are Buried by Chris Brookmyre
Revenge, drugs, violence, Glasgow hard men and a tough but weary cop. So far so familiar. Where the Bodies are Buried starts with a gangland revenge killing and proceeds with a plot about missing parents told from the perspectives of Jasmine, a drama student turned trainee private investigator who has lost her own mother and doesn’t know her father, and Catherine, an ambitious police woman with a normal home life and a troubled past.
Chris Brookmyre has written thirteen previous novels largely set in Scotland and this novel is billed as a departure from his usual style, being placed more firmly in the genre of crime fiction than that of‘satire with a few dead bodies’ for which he is known. We are reminded several times that “this is Glesca… we don’t do subtle, we don’t do nuanced, we do pish head bampot bludgeoning his girlfriend to death in a fit of paranoid rage induced by forty-eight hours straight on the batter” and sure enough there are no real surprises as we are taken through a competent crime thriller to a fairly predictable twist at the end. There is a lot of strong writing here, though, and the main characters are well drawn. Brookmyre has the rare ability for a male writer to write female characters well. But the fact that he can write complex characters makes it all the more disappointing that, for the baddies, he just doesn’t bother. A wee ned who is happy to kick people to death ? Check. A gangland lord with steely charm who has moved to the suburbs and gone legit? Check. A bent cop with a guilty conscience? Check. Tanning salons used to launder drug money? Again, check.
Unfortunately Where the Bodies are Buried lacks the wit of the Dadaist bank robbers in The Sacred Art of Stealing or the gleeful political intrigue and send up of Catholicism, sectarianism, and Scottish parliament of The Country of the Blind. Catherine and Jasmine, too, are not as engaging as Palabane or Angelique de Xavier, the main characters of several of his previous novels.
In this, like all of his novels, there is often the sense that the author is using his characters as mouthpieces to make his opinion known, regardless of their relevance or their suitability to the character. He can also torture a joke until it hurts. Take for example the sentences “The Organised Crime Unit Special Task Force was often decried as having a name longer than its list of convictions. It was officially known as Locust, a quasi acronym that ignored the final F and added an L at the front to accommodate a work invoking parasites and pestilence, presumably to describe its targets rather than itself.” Or “McGroarty had a younger brother, Charles, who had been known pretty much from birth as Chick. Which is a shame, as Charlie would have been a serendipitous choice of name for a Class A dealer specialising mainly in the eponymous.” Tell me you didn’t have to read them twice. Tell me when you’d read them the second time you weren’t sure why they were necessary. There are enough examples like this to become irritating.
Does Glasgow need any more depictions of two-dimensional gangsters selling drugs and carrying out revenge torture? Does it need any more bent cops or criminals with good hearts volunteering at a women’s refuge to make up for their past? If it does then I think Brookmyre should return to the satire that he is good at and leave someone less imaginative to do it.
Where the Bodies are Buried
Little, Brown & Company, rrp £17•99, 304pp