Frankie Boyle

(Baskerville, £14.99)

Writing a novel has come to be an almost obligatory rite-of-passage for comedians. Frankie Boyle long ago made the move into print with the humour books My Shit Life So Far and Work! Consume! Die!, and penned the graphic novel Rex Royd on his way to releasing his fiction debut, a crime thriller shot through with all the jaunty despair of one his New World Order monologues.

Meantime’s protagonist and narrator, Felix McAveety is a dishevelled and unrepentant drug fiend in his early thirties. In a previous life, Felix worked at BBC Scotland, listening to the hopeful pitches of creative media types before unceremoniously rejecting them (thus allowing Boyle to slip in a pointed “the whole organisation existed almost entirely to stop Scottish programmes from being made”), but he bailed out and resigned himself to a lifestyle consisting of bar work and drug abuse.

One morning shortly after the Independence Referendum, he wakes to find police officers dragging him out of bed. His close friend Marina has been found murdered in a park, and, to begin with, Felix is their prime suspect. Convinced that the police will make a hopeless job of tracking down her killer, Felix suggests to his equally debauched friend and neighbour Donnie that they should try to investigate her murder themselves. “We were the two people least suited to investigating anything,” he explains, “but with the right drug combinations we could be whoever we had to be.”

Dropping a Valium “for relaxed nonchalance” and “a little white upper for determination”, Felix begins his gonzo murder enquiry, tracking down Glasgow-based crime novelist Jane Pickford in the hope that she’ll be willing to help and paying a call on Marina’s doctor, the eccentric David Chong, who turns out to be an old friend of Felix’s who has developed quite an imposing physique since they last saw each other.

As he uncovers facts about his dead friend that he’d never suspected before, Felix begins to piece together a plot that seemingly involves the Justice Secretary, perverse relationships, heroin stolen from big-time drug dealers, a group of Independence activists in Springburn, Artificial Intelligence and the theory, cropping up at several points, that we’re all living in a giant computer simulation.

How funny you’ll find it depends on how much you enjoy Boyle’s stand-up and TV work, but fans won’t feel shortchanged. Boyle’s imagination is on overdrive, with a rapid turnover of acerbic, scurrilous jokes, and you can sense him grinning wickedly as each is despatched. When not flying off into tangents about leafblowers or cryogenic suspension, the plot acts as a springboard for critiques of Scotland, its politics and media, its drug habits and its culture (or more usually, lack of it), all tied up with a Boylean flourish: “I don’t know if people will even remember the Referendum with what’s coming down the pipeline. It’ll be a tricky tiebreaker in a pub quiz that takes place in the sex bunker of a pitiless regional petrol sultan.”

For all that he seems to be a mouthpiece for the author’s dark worldview, Felix is surprisingly likeable, and not the misanthropic borderline sociopath you might expect. He’s actually quite loyal and compassionate. It’s only when Boyle digs deeper into his backstory that we understand the pain that the drugs and sarcastic exterior are keeping at bay, and the flashes of empathy that Felix has shown towards others now illuminate his own damaged self. Meantime proves that “the dark heart of Mock the Week” has a soft centre, even if you have to do a lot of chewing to get to it.