Country Of The Blind by Christopher Brookmyre (1997)
This is Christopher Brookmyre’s second novel, the follow-up to Quite Ugly One Morning. While his first novel began with a detective uttering “Jesus fuck” at the discovery of a stool upon a grotesquely murdered man’s mantlepiece (we’re not talking furniture re-arrangements, either – quite an opening gambit from any debut author), Country Of The Blind begins in a much more genteel fashion: with a cup tea. Admittedly, this cup of tea was prepared by a man who has just been arrested for breaking and entering, robbery, and, of course, quadruple murder. His new-to-Glasgow lawyer initially finds her only potential line of defence to be that he had previously made her, yes, a nice cup of tea. That, plus a mysterious envelope he had handed her, on condition that it should only be opened were he to fall foul of the law.
And so we get a quick overview of some of Brookmyre’s favourite topics: murder and stitch-up, the law and its long arm, Scotland and some of its seedier inhabitants. Allied to these throughout his novels are fond(-ish) reminisence of school days, computer games, music, not to mention his evident disgust at the British Conservative party, Christianity in all its organised forms, the Old Firm of Rangers and Celtic, the right-wing media, casual racism, and corruption of The Man’s and/or The System. Fortunately these topics are addressed with a monumental dose of humour and copious amounts of sweary words, often in his native dialect – so much so that one of his later novels includes a glossary (sample entry: moolsy – Selfish, ungenerous, disinclined to share one’s sweeties with half a dozen cadgers who wouldn’t give you the steam off their shite if it was the other way round).
His chief protagonist is Jack Parlabane, a freelance journalist with a fierce sense of moral outrage (coincidentally, against many of the more egregious subjects listed above) and a handy lock-picking toolkit. Parlabane is an immensely likeable character, despite (or because of) his ability to start (and win) an argument in an empty house.
The plot details of Brookmyre’s novels don’t really lend themselves to too much description. It’s a little like trying to steal just a small piece of a large un-cut cake: nibbling at one slice of the plot tends to necessitate revealing at least part of the rest, and so on and so on until you realise you’ve eaten the whole cake and spolit the fun for everyone. So for now, beg, borrow, or steal a copy of any of his novels.
Incidentally, I chose this particular novel of his simply because I had the immense good fortune to find a very good condition, first edition hardback cover of it in a second-hand bookshop in Whitby, for just £5. It’s not often the cosmos deals me such cards, let me tell you. It was all I could to remember to pay for it before I ran out of the shop with it tucked under my arm, cackling.