Book review: Fallen Angel by Chris Brookmyre
Fallen Angel - Chris Brookmyre
You never know quite what to expect form the next Chris Brookmyre novel. Most recently it's been a science-fiction space adventure (Places in the Darkness) and an early 19th century medical mystery thriller (The Way of All Flesh as Ambrose Parry). With Fallen Angel, Brookmyre returns closer to his roots and the kind of crime thriller that made his name; not so much in the blistering comedy terror plots but closer (closer than you might at first think) to his Jack Parlabane books, where he rails against frauds, charlatans, conspiracy theorists, and not without some measure of flirting with controversy.
Fallen Angel is inspired to some extent it seems by the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, or perhaps not so much directly inspired by the case as much as picking up on the suspicion and conspiracy theories that still abound around the disappearance of the young child while on family holiday on the Algarve in Portugal. The case in Fallen Angel bears certain similarities in the mystery surrounding the investigation, if not concerned with the actual detail of what might have happened. In fact, Madeleine McCann is indeed referenced as taking place five years after the accidental death of Naimh Temple in the 2002 setting of Fallen Angel.
Accidental death is presumed at least, since the child's body was never recovered having believed to have fallen from a sharp cliff drop close to the Temple's family villa. It's perhaps the family name that attracts the attention, speculation and conspiracy theories, as the family of Max Temple, a noted academic who has become a popular TV figure because of his demolishing of unscientific theories, and his wife Celia, a former pin-up movie and TV star. The wider family situation however is, well ...you could say it's complicated. Brookmyre details all the peculiarities of the Temple children and grandchildren from a number of perspectives, splitting the narrative between the fateful holiday in 2002 when Niamh died and the present day in 2018, when the family have reunited for a holiday to pay respects to Max, who has just died, and presumably draw a line under the past and seek some kind of closure.
As well as presenting perspectives from the various members of the Temple family, we also get the first-person viewpoint of Amanda, a young Canadian girl, social media vlogger and budding journalist, who has been engaged by the Temple's holiday villa neighbours Vince and Kristen. There are issues there as well in that relationship, giving Amanda plenty to speculate about when she discovers who her neighbours are and starts to look into the rumours surrounding them. There is definitely something odd and suspicious about the behaviour of some members of the Temple family.
Initially it seems we are in welcome familiar Brookmyre territory of old here, coming down hard on fraudsters and conspiracy theorists. Dirt-digging journalists are one thing, suspicion of such activities finding a new lease of life on-line social media is another, but what Brookmyre seems to have reserved his very special and incendiary ire here for the monster of PR companies dressing up the truth, deflecting from the facts for a society fed up of experts, presenting narratives and 'talking points' to 'avoid misconceptions', but in reality muddying the waters with fake news.
Perception is everything however, whether when it comes to the truth or developing a conspiracy, and considering the real-life basis for controversy and conspiracy you expect Brookmyre to have a few things to throw at the reader to make them think about how easily they can be misled. He doesn't disappoint, but what is evident now is that while the Chris Brookmyre of old might have been content to just be clever, he seems now to have come out of the other side of his wide-ranging experiments with a number of styles and genres and presents a much more nuanced and experienced approach to the true subject he is dealing with here.
Fallen Angel isn't just a return to form from Brookmyre, it's one of his best books yet. Purely on the level of a murder-mystery, it's thrillingly plotted and developed, but characters that might have appeared as one-dimensional are actually strongly defined with complex underpinnings in their relationships with one another. The nature of those family relationships and tensions and how people behave is perceptive and realistic, and - being Brookmyre - it leads to explosive situations, heading to a conclusion that is shocking to the point of being almost devastating, but warmly and deeply moving. Welcome to the new old Chris Brookmyre.