Scottish novelist Christopher Brookmyre has become such a national treasure at home that it’s a wonder his books haven’t been more successful overseas. While he’s had some hits – and some misses – away from British shores, he’s hardly a household name. And anyone who’s familiar with his surreal wit and sharp plotting will tell you that he deserves more.
Unfortunately, Where The Bodies Are Buried probably isn’t the novel to change that. Although it steers away from Brookmyre’s more obscure cultural references, and keeps in check his tendency to turn thrillers into Xbox-influenced shoot-em-ups, it fails to ignite in the way that his previous hits have. In fact, maybe it fails because of his new-found restraint – this is Christopher Brookmyre sanitized for mass consumption, and the result is a thinned-out, watery concoction that does little to satisfy.
Swapping back and forth between narrative threads – all of which will obviously be tied in a neat little bow by the novel’s conclusion – Where The Bodies Are Buried at least shows some competent plotting, and a strong ear for character. Jasmine Sharp is a wannabe actress who ends up working for her Private Eye uncle; but when he vanishes she suddenly has a real mystery on her hands. Meanwhile DS Catherine McLeod is investigating an apparent gangland killing, but finds herself caught up in internal Police politics, and the possibility of long-term corruption among her fellow officers. Throw in the mysterious Tron Ingrams – a gardener and handyman who appears to know his way around a shockingly large arsenal – and you have a recipe for chaos.
Brookmyre is too good a novelist to let the narrative slip away from him, and the twists come thick and fast as the plot unravels. The bigger problem is that’s all there is – plot, plot and more plot, culminating in a disappointingly obvious denouement. If you’ve read his previous novels – particularly Pandaemonium and One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night – you’ll know that he’s capable of so much more. But Where The Bodies Are Buried steers clear of anything too surreal or extreme, and it winds up landing squarely within the well-trod territory of familiar whodunits. Brookmyre has written his most mainstream book to date – it just turns out that mainstream wasn’t what we wanted.
Where The Bodies Are Buried is available now from all good bookstores, priced $25.00.