Shiny Shelf

Be My Enemy

By Iain Hepburn on 20 February 2004

It’s been more than three years since Christopher Brookmyre, Strathclyde’s answer to Carl Hiassen, revisited the character who started off his literary career, but despite seemingly bringing Jack Parlabane’s career to a natural end, Brookmyre’s resurrected Scotland’s Most Famous Journalist once more.

For those unfamiliar with Brookmyre’s work – which seems to be an ever-decreasing percentage of the population, going by the coverage his novels now receive – the Hiassen comparisons made by the Observer are no faint praise. Mixing satire and the saltire in equal measures, then throwing in lashings of violence, chaos and either murder or crime, to produce what’s been dubbed Tartan Noir.

‘Be My Enemy’ – or to give it the title Brookmyre originally planned, ‘F*** This For A Game of Soldiers’ – sees Parlabane and Tim Vale, former spy turned security consultant and Jack’s best pal – invited up to a remote part of the highlands to cover the launch of a new activities holiday company. Except the company’s motives go well beyond a bit of paintball and some offroad racing, something which becomes immediately apparent when the bodies start mounting up.

It’s interesting to chart the evolution of Brookmyre’s universe – which at times has as much continuity and inter-referencing as a ‘Doctor Who’ novel – particularly in the post-9/11 climate. Having dealt with it peripherally through his last two, non-Parlabane books, putting Jack and especially Tim Vale into this environment show’s how increasingly out of touch the characters are, something Brookmyre’s not slow to exploit. Initially appearing as a “we’re too old for this” shtick, it develops into a growing awareness on both parts that as they get older they’re out of their depth in the wider world.

For Parlabane, especially, this feels like a farewell performance. This time the stakes are far smaller than he’s used to, and with age rapidly catching up with the cat burglar-cum-hack, it feels like Chris is giving him one last lap of honour, the final tour before retirement perhaps, or the testimonial match for a much loved but increasingly off the pace centre forward. Perhaps this, with the added inclusion of Vale in a starring role, means the end to the Parlabane universe in print – especially with the TV show and a recent radio production focusing attention on the character elsewhere.
Beyond Jack’s world, the usual references are all present and correct. The hidden background, the political polemic and pages upon pages of left-wing vs right-wing ranting are spread out among the character development and the comically gruesome death scenes. Like all the Brookmyre novels, and especially the Parlabane ones, it takes a good few chapters to get going, but once it does the pace is relentless. ‘Home Alone’ meets ‘Zulu’, as one character puts it, and there’s never a truer word spoken.

So is this the end for Parlabane? If so, the it’s a fitting one, and one with more than a touch of sadness. Journalists in Scotland will have to enjoy a degree of respectability again…

Buy ‘Be My Enemy’ at Amazon.

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By Iain Hepburn

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