Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A right stoater

Just finished the book I'd promised myself as a holiday read - though in fact I kept being too sleepy on Colonsay to read after tramping over the island every day I was there. But the latest Christopher Brookmyre, A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil, proved to be so enjoyable that I now feel quite bereft - a sure sign of a book enjoyed.

This is a murder story, beginning with the bodies and ending as the police and the amateur sleuth piece it all together. So far so traditional. But the bulk of the story takes place many years earlier, as we follow the killers, the victims and the police superintendent through their school days, from the first day in Primary One to the Leavers' Dance. The episodes from school gradually reveal more about the characters and their relationships so that we can start thinking we see it too - though in usual Brookmyre style it's a complicated story. But in addition to the murder plot there is the wonderful recreation of school life in the West of Scotland, so that I recognise some of the odd expressions my kids came home with - "gemmie" was quite new to me when Ewan first came out with it. I also understand for the first time why boys at dances used to lurk annoyingly along the far wall and march off with each other when they might have been dancing - a mystery for the past 48 years, by my reckoning.

I found the descriptions of life in Primary school rang depressingly and hilariously true *, with the mad heidie and the teachers who never listened to anyone and who were as a result doomed to be perpetually unjust, as well as the horrors of the visits to the toilets and braving the Primary 4 playground when you were in Primary 1, and wondered how much my own kids didn't bother to tell me when they were at Primary school. And the dialogue is brilliant - and very, very real.

And just when you think it's all over, there's a glossary for the non-native speaker. It's hilarious. A choice example (well, two examples):
: An inanimate object as distinguished from a living being.
hingmy : An all-purpose procrastinatory term for that which one cannot quite think of the name of yet. Equivalent of the French truc.

And if you read it and then find yourself indulging in Central Belt expletives in unsuitable company, don't blame me.

*See comments for further elucidation.


  1. Anonymous9:12 AM

    Skipping right over the blacking of primary school staff characters, I believe that a hingmy is also know as a wee mad hing.

  2. Anonymous8:26 PM

    I read your description and had to buy the book when I saw it today. What can I say? Pure dead brilliant! Thanks :-)

  3. John, remember that Brookmyre's primary school experience was in the 70s and perhaps into the 80s - a period when, to my own certain knowledge as a parent, one monstrous woman resorted to belting her Primary 1 class to maintain discipline (belting 5 year olds!) and another was so busy organising her charity catalogue that she had little time to teach or enthuse her class or even to mark their work. I am happy to know ho much things have changed in the past 25 years.

  4. Anonymous12:08 PM

    I forgot to wink;-)
    I was in primary in the 60s and remember both infant classes being brought together to witness the infant mistress sitting on a seat and hitting a wee boy on the legs with a ruler while he ran back and forth restrained by her other hand. I can't remember what the child had done but do not imaging it was anything much.

  5. If you enjoyed the book you would have loved his lecture for the GTCS, my posting.

    I would also recommend - One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night - as a story of a school re-union on a refurbished oil rig (off the coast of Scotland) which has mercenaries, terrorists and retired policemen as gate crashers.

  6. Kenneth, I have to admit to having read every one of his books - you may have noticed that in every one there's a minor character called McIntosh, and that has a sort of bearing on why!
    And yes, I think I'd have loved the lecture.

  7. Anonymous6:29 PM

    Christine, Christopher Brookmyre is a friend and former colleague of my sister, Janie. My man Donald has his book (which Janie got signed for him) although he seems not to be as quick at reading as you are!