The Null Device

A Tale Etched In Blood And Hard Black Pencil

I just read Christopher Brookmyre's most recently published novel, A Tale Etched In Blood And Hard Black Pencil. It took me a while to get around to it, because I found his previous book, All Fun And Games Until Someone Loses An Eye, somewhat disappointing; it seemed almost as if someone replaced the wickedly dark satirist who wrote Quite Ugly One Morning and A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away (whom some have called the Bill Hicks of Scottish crime fiction) with a committee of Hollywood script-doctoring hacks; virtually all the bite was gone (with the exception of a few token bampots and numpties and a dash of rote Old Firm sectarianism), and replaced with a schmaltzy wish-fulfilment story. This was centre-of-goodness plotting at its most formulaic and uninspired. As such, I only picked this book up when it was half-price from Amazon and I needed to pad out an order.

I am pleased to report, then, that A Tale Etched In Blood And Hard Black Pencil is a return to form. The plot involves various people who went to school in the early 1980s in (you guessed it) greater Glasgow, and their lives in the present day; more specifically, one of them has apparently been murdered, and two others look like the suspects. The characters' school days, in all their petty viciousness, brutality and moments of levity, are fleshed out quite realistically (one can empathise with the children in their schoolyard conflicts as much as with their grown-up selves), and the way the characters grow, gaining perspective and no small amount of regret. Needless to say, dark secrets are revealed and some people turn out to not be what they initially seem, in various ways. And Brookmyre, perhaps acknowledging the shortcomings of his previous book, sets up an obvious wish-fulfilment plot line, and then proceeds to swerve well wide of it.

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