After 2008’s fantastic Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks, Brookmyre had ignored his investigative journalist, Jack Parlebane, while he worked on other projects (including a hilarious piece commissioned for the Commonwealth Games which he reads out in a variety of Glasgow schoolchildren’s accents). However, the phone hacking scandal proved too much temptation for Brookmyre and he brought Parlebane back.
I was lucky enough to attend a talk organised by Moffat Book Events where Brookmyre chatted at length with Michael Malone (another great author) about his new Parlebane book, Dead Girl Walking, and the reasons he’d brought Jack back.
Brookmyre was in no doubt that phone hacking would have been something Jack Parlebane would have routinely doing in his unquenchable search for the truth (albeit Jack’s hacking would have been to ensnare corrupt politicians (is there any other kind?) rather than to listen to the voice messages of a murdered child’s family). As the Leveson Enquiry miserably tried to tear a new arsehole into the British press, the multinationals offered up as many sacrificial lambs as it could in order to protect the bosses. As Brookmyre said, it was not unreasonable to think that Jack Parlebane would have been the first in the dock.
But the phone hacking scandal isn’t what Dead Girl Walking is about. It’s about redemption. And for Parlebane to have something to redeem himself from, Brookmyre first had to bring Jack down. He did this at the back end of 2014 with the novella/short story, The Last Day of Christmas: The Fall of Jack Parlebane. I’m not giving any spoilers away here but to fully enjoy Dead Girl Walking, and understand Jack’s state of mind and why he was keen to get out of the UK for a while, you are probably well-served reading this first.
So onto Dead Girl Walking. Jack is approached by an old friend who asks him to track down Heike Gunn, the female lead singer/songwriter of Savage Earth Heart, an emerging rock band (When I was trying to envisage a real-life equivalent I thought of Florence and the Machine – my wife likes them, not me!) who has gone missing during a European tour. Having recently lost everything: his career, his marriage and his self-respect, he reluctantly takes on the job. As he immerses himself in what life on the road was like for all the band members/road crew/management he finds dark secrets abound. Throw in a few Euro-thugs and it’s not long before Jack is up to his old tricks again. Dead Girl Walking’s other point of view is exposition from Monica, the band’s newly recruited classical violinist, and it is fascinating to read Brookmyre describe her initiation into the new world of rock and roll. As usual, Jack annoys and thwarts people determined to stop him getting at the truth, throw in his usual cynicism and sarcasm and you have a story that will have you grinning as you read.
The plot, as is usual in all his books, is secondary to the rich narrative and characters Brookmyre builds in layers as he takes us into yet another world we probably hadn’t spent too long thinking about. Well researched as always, hilarious, satirically biting and seriously page-turning, Dead Girl Walking is another knockout from the literary heavyweight.
I’ve now read all six (seven if you count the Last Day of Christmas: The Fall of Jack Parlebane) Jack Parlebane books and each one has it’s own identity. Brookmyre doesn’t just stick to a winning formula and keep churning out more of the same, a book a year, until they all merge into one androgynous mess, so each book is challenging in its own right. So is it the best Parlebane book? For the reasons mentioned above, questions like this are less relevant than those for more consistent book series. It doesn’t have the stand out, memorable, oft quoted classic scenes like the turd on a mantelpiece from Quite Ugly One Morning or my personal favourite scene; Spammy’s monologic rant about stepping on a twig in Country of the Blind but what it does have is that immersive feeling you get when you start reading a Brookmyre book; absolute enjoyment from beginning to end.
Although I only discovered him in 2014 Brookmyre has quickly become one of my favourite authors. In the words of someone or other; whatever he’s selling, I’m buying!