So instead of whirling a literary blade and decapitating multi-award-winning author Chris Brookmyre – along the way he has lost a "topher" from his name – it must be said When The Devil Drives is an engaging, well-written, Scottish-based crime thriller.
If that sounds like damnation with faint praise, it should be said that the crime-writing genre is engorged with dull, derivative, cliche-driven drivel where a high body count is somehow used to mask a dreadful paucity of talent. So any crime page-turner that is satisfyingly engaging, with a lucid beginning, middle and an end (as When The Devil Drives has) should be welcomed. But, and sadly there is a large but, this is Christopher Brookmyre, the Barrhead boy whose witty yet vicious previous novels – which went off on wild feats of fantasy but were tethered by large dollops of the blackest west of Scotland humour – have been the fiction of choice of many Scots who appreciate intelligent literature they can identify with.
Throughout his novels Brookmyre would happily attack establishment figures from politicians to the Church, bankers and the police, with a brio and cleverness soaked in Scottish foul language, usually accompanied by sly digs at Rangers and Celtic fans. They were clever Scottish books with few peers, and his fans loved them. None, though, has been made into a film, other than the 2004 television adaptation of his debut, Quite Ugly One Morning, starring James Nesbitt, while fellow Scots Ian Rankin and Val McDermid have seen their novels successfully cross from the page to the screen time and time again. Does Brookmyre have a hankering to follow them? Or is he being pushed by his publishers to write for the main-stream? Bluntly, has he abandoned his loyal readers to make more money with whodunnits that can sell even more copies around the world?
When The Devil Drives is the second novel published under the shortened name of Chris. It is a follow-up to Where The Bodies Are Buried and reprises private investigator Jasmine Sharp who, at 21, has to make her way in the murky realm of Glasgow-based crime investigation instead of her desired career path of the theatre. Her search for a missing actress takes her into the world of theatre that she once craved. Is the actress's disappearance linked to the murder of a successful theatre entrepreneur on a shooting estate? Throw in some Wicker Man-style ritualism, dollops of drug-taking and sexual tension, and, hey presto, a book is born.
There is no disguising the quality of Brookmyre's prose. Flashes of his well-written bile occasionally surface, like a shark's fin in a favourite bay. But to compare it to his beloved faltering football team, it's like St Mirren signing a Barcelona player. It is good to see his glimmers of brilliance in the lower echelons of the Scottish Premier League but what he's doing there at all? Should his talents not be better served elsewhere?
So one suspects this novel will be a disappointment to Brookmyre fans who want more of his black-humoured fantasies. Aficionados of crime novels could certainly do a lot worse. And yes, maybe we will see it on television, and Brookmyre will say how enjoyable he has found exercising his talent in a more mainstream pursuit. The old Brookmyre fans, though, might have dark thoughts of the author cracking up if this novel ever made it to television, and taking a machine gun to the cast and television executives in an orgy of blood-spattered mayhem. Now that could be the start of a good Christopher Brookmyre novel.
Christopher Brookmyre will appear at the Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival in Melrose on June 16. For tickets, call 0844 357 1060 or visit www.bordersbookfestival.org. The novel is launched at Waterstones, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, at 6pm on June 7. Tickets, priced £3, are available from the branch and redeemable on the cost of the book on the night.
When The Devil Drives
Little, Brown, £17.99