Journalist Jack Parlabane has always been my favourite Chris Brookmyre character, his dastardly deeds done in the search of the truth righteously hilarious from Quite Ugly One Morning onwards. The chastened post-Leveson, newly-divorced Parlabane – seen most recently in the 2016 McIlvanney Prize-winning Black Widow – was a creature adrift, but gaining more depth and interest.
In this latest outing, a brief, gripping prologue suggests that things are not going to go well – good news, because a cornered Jack is an entertaining Jack – and then it’s straight into a series of scene-setting vignettes. All the reader need do now is make sure their chair is comfortable, because they are going nowhere for a good long while.
We’re introduced to Sam, a young woman with a mother in jail, a sister with special needs relying on her, and a whole heap of other problems, plus Jack’s new employers and a crew of computer hackers who are targeting a bank for some serious embarrassment. When Jack and Sam’s lives intersect, things start to move quickly: blackmail (of Sam) leads to blackmail (of Jack) leads to industrial espionage leads to our hero taking punches and engaging in some light breaking and entering, as the pair work their way behind the defences of tech firm Synergis in search of its latest creation in order to satisfy Sam’s blackmailer.
Sam’s struggles bring out the white knight in Jack, but she is just as much a saviour of the veteran journalist, their skills meshing together as the Synergis break-in goes horribly wrong and they go on the run.
The computer hacking foundation works well considering it’s a much-used pop culture topic (Angelina Jolie and Jonny Lee Miller starred in the film Hackers way back in 1995) while remaining something most of us know next to nothing about.
Brookmyre has used it to turn Want You Gone from an entertaining tartan noir novel into something that feels more like a glossy spy thriller, with its laser focus on plot, action and the zing between its two central characters.
Minor characters are drawn like Chinese calligraphy, just a few brushstrokes outlining them with bold precision, and once things really get going, nothing is allowed to sap the pace of the action.
*Want You Gone by Chris Brookmyre, Little, Brown, £18.99. Chris Brookmyre is appearing in Glasgow on 20 April, Newton Mearns on 25 April, St Andrews on 26 April, Bute on 27 April, Kirkcaldy on 3 May, Dundee on 4 May and Dunfermline on 5 May; www.brookmyre.co.uk