Real Life™ blows. Just ask Raymond Ash. As a student, he and his friend Simon thought their futures would be paved with gold discs, gigs and groupies. Instead he's found himself in his thirties, a nervous new father and an even more nervous new English teacher, facing the fact that responsibility has no Escape key.
The last thing on Ray's troubled mind is a band reunion. For one thing, theirs wasn't exactly an amicable split; but a slightly larger obstacle is that Simon has been dead for three years. So when Ray glimpses him walking through Glasgow Airport, he assumes he's seeing things, until Real Life™ starts getting weirder and more violent than any computer game ...
My first time reading author Christopher Brookmyre in many years. I read his debut novel way back when, hoovered up some more of his books and then promptly forgot about them. Whilst I enjoyed A Big Boy, I'm probably not going to rush to read anything else by him soon.
Positives.... decent enough story once it gets going. There's kind of a dual timeline element to it as we go back into Ray Ash and Simon Darcourt's shared student days. We discover how much of a tool Simon is even back then, before the faked death and reinvention as a feared terrorist maestro. The narrative does flip forwards and backwards which is something I enjoyed.
We spend most of the time in the present day as Ray and Simon reconnect. Ray wants to enjoy his family and the new addition, if only the baby will ever stop crying. Simon wants to enhance his Black Spirit reputation with another appalling atrocity this time on home soil. An accident, or possibly fate sets them on a collision course. Detective Angelique De Xavier, the third spoke in the wheel pulls out all the stops to try and foil the Black Spirit's cunning plan. Even if it means working with the initially kidnapped before escaping English teacher.
There's a lot of humour in the story as well. There's a classroom scene which involves Ray trying to engage with his sceptical students and it's one of the funniest few pages I've ever read. That's not a one-off, as Brookmyre frequently uses humour to create a connection for the reader with his characters.
I liked the main character and was keen to see how he got on dealing with situations that took him far out of his comfort zone. There's a loving relationship shared by Ray and his wife and an interesting dynamic between Ray and De Xavier. It contrasts nicely with Simon's character defects.... a superiority complex, a massive ego, an inability to forgive and forget even trivial sleights of long ago. Simon always has to believe he's the smartest person in the room and the centre of the universe.
The ending was satisfying with just the hint of a question mark about the fate of one of the main characters. The frequent injections of wit kind of disarm any escalation of tension in the tale. Brookmyre opts for laughs as opposed to a kind of anxious doomsday thriller.
Negatives... maybe it took just a little bit too long to set things in motion and at 500 plus pages it demands a level of commitment that I'm not used to giving. I thought I'd tackle the book in 25 page increments daily. By about page 125, I was upping the ante to 30-35, before polishing off the last 130 in a couple of days. Size isn't everything, as I keep telling my wife.
Overall I really enjoyed it,
3.5 from 5
Read - June, 2022
Published - 2001
Page count - 512
Source - purchased copy
Format - Paperback