When The Devil Drives by Chris Brookmyre (2012)
Jasmine Sharp had big dreams once. Raised by her mother, Beth, who used to tread the boards, she was sure that she would find her place in the world of acting. Jasmine had promise too. Enrolled at the Scottish Academy of Theatre and Dance, she showed her considerable abilities and loved every minute of it. But then disaster struck. Beth was diagnosed with terminal cancer and Jasmine dropped out to take care of her mother. She never went back.
Instead of returning to her thespian dream, Jasmine began to work for her mother’s cousin, as a private investigator. Although she didn’t realise it, Jasmine was perfectly qualified to play the roles required in any investigations. But life can be fickle and her employed died. Jasmine found herself the sole proprietor of the company, worth little beyond the name. She had a difficult choice to make and chose to continue with her role as private investigator. It’s lucky she did or there would have been no book written about her and this review wouldn’t exist.
Jasmine is approached by an elderly woman trying to find her long-lost sister, Tessa. They became estranged after the death of their mother and now, with the woman discovering that she has cancer, she wishes to reconnect with her. But there are problems, and that’s why she came to Jasmine. Unfortunately, there is no trace of Tessa. She appears to have simply disappeared.
Jasmine is intrigued for more reasons that one. She empathises with the woman, given her medical prognosis. She is also curious about Tessa, who was said to be a very promising young actress decades before. Jasmine is always looking out for connections to those who might have known her mother previously, when she lived in Glasgow before the move to Edinburgh. Tessa plied her acting wares in and around Glasgow, so maybe.
Meanwhile, Detective Superintendent, Catherine MacLeod, has been assigned to investigate the shooting dead of a prominent figure at a Scottish Castle. A sniper was involved and Catherine must hurriedly try to figure out if the murder was specific or random. Are there going to be more? Her queries all hit dead-ends with next to nothing to go on. But DS MacLeod got to be a senior police office because she’s both tenacious and talented. Slowly, Catherine begins to make headway. Slowly.
Jasmine’s investigations are also proving difficult. She’s puling out all the stops in her attempts to find someone last heard of 30 years previously. Jasmine meets with renowned members of the acting world in Scotland, some of whom remember Tessa. But she gets the distinct impression that they are holding back information from her, but can’t figure why. Jasmine becomes convinced that Tessa is dead, whereabouts unknown.
As this story progresses, the reader can see how the two threads are moving closer together, before becoming inexorably entwined. Jasmine finds that the person who murdered the prominent acting personality at the castle might be the same one who she believes murdered Tessa all those years before. This is not the first story featuring Jasmine Sharp and Catherine MacLeod. Nor is it the last. They make a formidable pair, even when acting separately. Catherine is set on one investigation only, and is thus behind Jasmine in the overall uncovering. It’s frustrating for a cop to be in the shadow of a young woman with little experience but oodles of raw talent.
The world of acting in Scottish theatre, and the shenanigans that go with it, make for an interesting backdrop for this story. Tessa seems to have been caught up in something too big to handle, too perverse. Actors can sometimes get a tad too creative and experimental. But was this what killed Tessa? Or is she dead at all?
When The Devil Drives is a decent read. It’s not the best that Chris Brookmyre has ever produced. Yet it’s still a good enough book. It does have flaws though. The timelines for the action are skewed. This might be an attempt to sow confusion for the reader, a try at being clever. However, it merely serves to frustrate. When an author has to resort to jumbling up timelines to prevent a reader from copping on to what’s happening, then the plot is at fault. In this instance, it wasn’t necessary and so Rebel Voice would look upon the tactic as an error in judgement by the author.
Jasmine Sharp is a likeable character with great potential. Her ‘guardian’ Fallon is too, but his attributes are questionable. It’s one of those cases where a person is introduced who appears to have preternatural abilities. About the only thing Fallon can’t do well is hack into computers. If an American author had written this book, there would have had to be a computer whizz. It’s a prerequisite these days for modern thrillers. Thankfully Brookmyre avoided this pitfall.
Catherine MacLeod is another well-rounded character. Both she and Jasmine are believable and consistent. It’s interesting to see how the two operate. It’s also nice to watch how the timelines are interwoven without obstructing one another. This book is very well written even if the plot and/or format is questionable. Rebel Voice is a fan of stories set in bonnie Scotland, one of the most beautiful places in earth and with some of the most interesting people. But then again, as Rebel Voice is an Irish creation, we might be biased in favour of our Gaelic cousins. We won’t apologise.
This novel is a great introduction to Scottish literature for those wanting to get stuck in. It’s pacey, articulate, grounded and of interest. It has twists and turns and the ending is not what you might imagine. All-in-all, it’s enough to make this reviewer reach for the next episode in the series, which is called Bred In The Bone, followed by Siege Mentality. Good times ahead.
Sult scale rating: 7 out of 10. This is a decent enough story with a few flaws, but not enough to put you off. The setting is great, the characters are consistent and interesting, and the actions keeps on coming. It also has plenty of mystery and intrigue to ensure that you’re guessing all the way thorough.