Saturday, May 9, 2015

Dead Girl Walking, by Christopher Brookmyre

Atlantic Monthly/Grove Atlantic, 2015
377 p

hardcover (from the publisher -- thank you!)

"What happens on tour, stays on tour." 

Finally - a thriller that works!  That's a big deal coming from me since I am not normally a thriller person, but this one I liked.  To be sure, it has its over-the-top moments but on the whole, I couldn't put this book down -- the story is that good.

Sadly, I haven't read any of the previous five Jack Parlabane series novels (I own the first one, and now it's coming down off the shelf into the soon-to-read tbr pile) because when Dead Girl Walking starts, Jack has lost everything. So it was a little rocky for me at first not knowing his history, but it didn't take long until I was up to speed.  Jack is married, but now separated with little to no hope of reconciliation; he is also a journalist, but now discredited, "a disgraced and disparaged hack nobody in the business would go near again." So when Mairi, the younger sister of one of his friends asks him to look into the disappearance of her client, a rock star named Heike Gunn who seems to have gone missing and bring her home, he takes her up on it.

There are two alternating narratives at play in this novel, one that follows Jack and the other belonging to Monica, who has just joined Heike's band Savage Earth Heart as a fiddle player.  Monica's narrative is presented as a blog written while on tour; it details not only her experiences in the music business but also her growing but very complicated relationship with Heike.  It also underscores the importance of the meaning of a piece of advice she's given:  "what happens on tour, stays on tour."  The technique works very nicely -- while the reader is busy with Monica's story, Jack and his friend Mairi follow in her foosteps knowing pretty much nothing about what's actually happened to try to get to the truth of what happened to Heike.

Aside from the story itself, one of the best things that the author does in this novel happens in Berlin. There the reader is introduced to the city's ghost stations, a very haunting but real phenomenon, part of Berlin's history. As I discovered, these are a series of closed-down stations where trains would slow down but never stopped,  where
"Armed guards from East Germany stood in the dimly-lit stations and before the trains entered East Berlin a loudspeaker announcement was made: "Last station in West Berlin." -- (see link above).
Aside from historical interest, the author links these ghost stations to Heike's inner self -- very well done.

While, as I said, there are a few over-the-top moments, Dead Girl Walking doesn't work along the lines of what seems to pass for thriller novels these days.  First of all, it's extremely coherent.  It is well plotted -- one thing I object to in most thriller stories these days is that authors want to go very big and add everything but the kitchen sink -- that doesn't happen here. Also, aside from the Balkan criminals, the characters don't come across as stereotypical, another problem with more than a few thriller novels these days.  And thank god there is no kick-ass, badass, gun-toting female heroine here; au contraire, considering that a man wrote this, for the most part, he writes the women very well.

Dead Girl Walking was a pleasant surprise -- I do not enjoy thriller novels, but this was a good one.

since I have a hardcover copy, if anyone in the US would like my ARC copy, let me know and I'll mail it to you!

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