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by Christopher Brookmyre
Abacus, April 2007
416 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 0349118809

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

DS Karen Gillespie has returned to Glasgow, the town she grew up in, where she lands a murder investigation. The crime scene reflects the fact that the criminals did not know what they were doing. The murderer(s) attempted to eliminate traces of the victims by burning the corpse. Unfortunately they were unable to create a strong or hot enough fire to destroy the bodies of the victims, Johnny Turner and Colin Temple.

It is easy to come up with two likely suspects Turner's son and 'Noodsy' Doon. Karen is somewhat surprised by this crime as she went through primary and secondary school with these two men. Then to make the class reunion theme stronger, Noodsy calls lawyer and former classmate Martin Jackson for help. While it seems obvious who killed the two men and how they were killed, the motive of the murderer remains unknown. Karen and Martin must rely on their former classmates and school memories in order to discover the truth and resolve a crime that occurred more than 20 years before.

Interspersed with the chapters dealing with the modern day crime investigation are chapters relating events from the characters' school days in the 1970s. This includes minor crimes, football games, gossip and social relationships. These chapters provide the groundwork for the characters' present lives as well an explanation for the murders, which is the event that brings them together again.

Normally I enjoy reading Christopher Brookmyre's novels. His writing style is ironic and sardonic. He takes every day life and presents it in a manner that shows the silliness, the trivial and the unimportant. While A TALE ETCHED IN BLOOD AND HARD BLACK PENCIL is sarcastic and does take pot-shots at everyday life, it is not as strong as other Brookmyre books.

The one element that is the weakest in A TALE ETCHED IN BLOOD AND HARD BLACK PENCIL is the juxtaposition between the past and the present. The characters that appear in the modern day chapters are not as well developed as their younger selves nor is the connection between the past and the present always clear. Is the morning football game truly important? Is the first day of school really that important in relationship to a modern murder? The bulk of this book does focus on the past but that is no excuse for skimping on the present. If Brookmyre wants to keep the reader hooked, he needs to be constant in his character development and character depth.

A TALE ETCHED IN BLOOD AND HARD BLACK PENCIL is not a good mystery; however, it is a good and frighteningly accurate presentation of childhood relationships and the tribulations of school. The scars are not always visible but they continue to affect a person's actions his or her entire life. Reading A TALE ETCHED IN BLOOD AND HARD BLACK PENCIL with this mindset will be much more satisfying than expecting an engaging murder investigation.

Reviewed by Sarah Dudley, May 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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