Black Widow

Black Widow   by Chris Brookmyre

One of the favourite activities of Rebel Voice is learning a little about new places, especially those that are not as widely covered in popular literature. Inverness, in Scotland, is such a place and Black Widow is set there. Sadly, although the city and region make a nice backdrop, the author has chosen not to elaborate upon the basics necessary to locate a story. Yet, even with this slight oversight, Black Widow is still a decent enough read.

Diana Jager is a renowned surgeon with a chequered past. She was obliged to relocate to bonny Scotland, from London, due to her aggressive personal blogging and the disastrous consequences that followed (take note all you bloggers out there, they may be out to get ya). In her forties now, and in the relative quiet of this city at the foot of the Scottish Highlands, Diana can hear her biological clock tick ever more loudly. She is ready for change.

In steps Peter Elphinstone, the perfect man, or so it seems to Diana. Peter’s past is steeped in mystery that he seems unwilling to disperse. Yet, both recognize a need in the other and a whirlwind romance ensues. They marry after a few passionate months and then, less than one year after they marry, tragedy strikes. Peter’s car goes off the road and he drowns in a river. His body is never recovered.

It is then that we meet our anti-hero, of a kind, Jack Parlabane. Jack is a disgraced yet capable Scottish journalist in need of a chance of redemption. Peter’s sister, Lucy, has grave concerns about her brother’s fatal accident and asks the rumpled Jack to investigate. As Parlabane digs into the story, questions arise about Diana’s commitment to her marriage. The journalist becomes convinced that Peter’s accident is not all that it seems. The entire incident begins to unravel as Jack determinedly pulls at the threads, falling for Lucy as he forces on. Toss in Ali Kazmi, the uniform Scottish cop and her partner, Ruben Rodriguez, the English newbie, and you have the makings of a solid novel.

And that is what Black Widow is, solid. It won’t change your world or inspire you. It won’t make you jump up and down at the thought of reading another chapter. It won’t make your testicles tingle or your ovaries ache with desire as you reach for the book. Neither will it bore the tits off you.

The characters are consistent and develop nicely throughout. They, and Parlabane in particular, are flawed and therefore real. The plot is, again, decent. It pushes on at a steady pace with some twists thrown in for good measure. The ending is good although, smugly I say, I guessed the conclusion approximately half-way through due to one clue. Beat that, I dare ya.

I would have enjoyed Black Widow more if Brookmyre had taken more time in describing Scotland. It’s a gloriously beautiful country that deserved a stronger portrayal. As much as the characters are steady, they still lack excitement even when they are depicted as those who should be extremely engaging.

The author has, for me, failed in his attempts to ratchet up the tension necessary for a thriller of this kind. Black Widow, and Chris Brookmyre, have not fulfilled their full potential, yet I know that Brookmyre is an excellent story-teller and writer. His novel, Pandaemonium, is a classic and comes highly recommended by Rebel Voice. Black Widow is not on the same scale.

Sult scale rating: 6.5 out of 10. Good enough to pass the time but Pandaemonium, by the same author, is recommended instead.