Scottish writer Brookmyre's fifth comic thriller is his first to be published here, no doubt thanks to its ultra-American setting and storylines.
An oceanographic vessel is discovered floating somewhere in the Pacific, its crew vanished. A carnival of far-right Christians has parked itself outside the hotel hosting a convention of exploitation filmmakers whom LAPD Sergeant Larry Freeman, back from leave after the death of a child, is supposed to protect. Add to this mix an ex-porn star (child of a prominent conservative US senator) and a 6-foot 7-inch Glasgow photographer on his first visit to the City of Angels, stir well with bombs and an apocalyptic plot that threatens the entire city as the clock ticks toward the fateful date of December 31, 1999. Or, to be more succinct, imagine Day of the Locust updated and rewritten by Carl Hiaasen. Well regarded in the UK for his previous work, Brookmyre here attempts something truly ambitious: an amusing suspenser with a serious message about religious intolerance. To some extent, he succeeds. The initial interweaving of more than a half-dozen plot threads is occasionally exasperating (you’re repeatedly wrenched away in the middle of interesting developments), but the payoff in the middle section, where the major elements finally come together with a literal bang, is considerable and quite satisfying. The final third, with its race-against-time finale, is also good solid fun. Brookmyre, though, takes too many lengthy digressions into the screwed-up pasts of his characters (all except Freeman victims of some sex-related trauma) and long diatribes about the multiple sins of religious fundamentalism. Also, despite some valiant efforts to delay the multiple payoffs, the actual working-out of the narrative is fairly predictable. Still, the good guys are eminently likable and the bad guys surprisingly sincere.
A credible American debut. Let’s hope it inspires someone Over Here to publish Brookmyre’s earlier fiction.