Well now, this is a pleasant surprise. Brookmyre's last novel was the first to really break the familiar though hugely enjoyable formula of all his other books - incompetent terrorists or wannabee gangsters getting into explosive siege situations with high bodycounts and an even higher expletive quotient. It was a formula however that was starting to get a bit stale, but with 'Blood and Hard Black Pencil' Brookmyre showed that he was capable of stretching his range a little bit. 'Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks' goes much further.
It might be slightly toned-down and lacking the usual barrage of one-liners, but Brookmyre's mordant sarcasm and bitter cynicism is still there, and there is no slacking in the writer's mischievous debunking of the establishment. If anything, his target in 'Rubber Ducks' is a rather more pertinent one than the usual government-led conspiracies, small-time ned gangsters and anonymous terrorist organisations. In his targeting of the fraudsters and tricksters who call themselves mediums, spiritualists and psychic entertainers, it's not too much of a stretch to see he is attacking the credulous public's growing tolerance and acceptance for the unscientific beliefs of Creationism and Intelligent Design and their encroachment into the nation's classrooms. (A few sideswipes at the Holyrood and the Daily Mail don't go amiss either).
Anyone looking for the familiar explosive Brookmyre pyrotechnics is going to be disappointed by this new book, but those who consider the author a talented writer will be delighted to see him develop his style and range and put all that bitter rage towards something more meaningful than the enjoyable but all-blurred-into-one homogeneity of his previous books. It's not perfect however. Brookmyre attempts a few sleights of hand of his own here which are delightful to see play out - his research into the tricks of the trade is evident and he makes a convincing case - but the major revelations are rather predictable in their outcome. Still, it's a welcome new change of direction and a progressive one that is very promising indeed.
This is Brookmyres best yet, a very well sequenced plot that skips a merry dance whilst debunking hokum and bunkum irrespective of whether it is PSI or Whooo as he calls it, or religion - Brookmyre leaves little doubt that to him both are equally ridiculous. Therefore some readers of a religious persuasion may not take to it but for those that do they are in for a treat. A cleverly twisting plot that re-introduces a favourite character - Jack Parlabane.
Brookmyre is at his sarcastic windmill tilting best with this book. Git it up yer - a stoater.
I cannot agree with those who scored this low, it cannot be for reasons of poor plot or development, but each to his own. Not suitable for Christians, Muslims, Spiritualists or other believers in the absurd etc etc you have been warned.
A very, very entertaining read.
on 30 August 2007
Was looking forward to this when I saw the title and that it was the return of Parlabane investigative journalist.
The book starts with jack telling us he's dead and it's due to his meeting TV psychic Gabriel Lafayette. The story is told by Parlapane and others in a past tense.As a confirmed cynic he's seen as the perfect candidate to take part in scientific experiemnts to prove or disprove as Jack would say all this pyschic nonsense.
It's only really the second half of the book where the tory gets going and I felt the twists for once were fairly easy to predict. The first half is very slow particularly if you already know the character. Maybe with the last two books not being about Jack, Brookmyre felt the need to reference his previous books more.
There's some genuine laugh out moments I particularly liked the character Spammy's explanation for giving up smoking canabis.
For those loyal Brookmyre readers this is ok not his best but still worth reading. For anyone who hasn't read his books before please don't start with this it won't give you a real feel for how good Brookmyre can be.
Jack Parlabane I thought was a great creation with his dry humour and "criminal" methods of investigating here he's led by others and comes across as stupid
To sum up if you love Brookmyre it's worth reading but if you wait for the paperback version you might be glad you waited and saved a few quid.
on 28 September 2009
If you have never read Christopher brookmyre you do not know what you are missing.
I suggest you start with the first in the series and work towards this one as some characters are reoccurring (Although all the book are good stand-alone and some are not part of a series).
As always the author is a master of leading you down one path where you totally agree with everything that is being put forward then flip everything is turned on it's head. Genius
He is an absolute master of writing and has nowhere near the recognition he deserves.
Do yourself a favour and get yourself a Christopher brookmyre.
on 13 August 2009
It's unfortunate. A lot of the negative reviews on this book have a common thread; namely, that Jack Parlabane's character isn't in 'full throttle' here.
I'll concur with that, but does it really matter that much when the novel itself is so well-plotted?
I'm a relatively new fan of Brookmyre. I've read a few of his books (All fun & Games, Quite Ugly One morning, and A tale etched in Blood), and enjoyed them all, for very different reasons, and Unsinkable Rubber Ducks, like the other novels that I've read, was another superb bit of storytelling, with everything I've come to expect from the author; namely, a great plot, canny twists, likeable characters, and more than just one trick up the sleeve.
But most of all, the subject matter was a real selling point to me.
What I didn't like about the book was that it borrows (whether accident, intention, homage or coincidence) from an old Columbo movie "Columbo Goes to the Guillotine". - Without giving too much away, both tales involved a psychic under scientific scrutiny, and the main character collaborating with a young geeky kid to crack the case. Both even had similar ESP experiments.
However, Unsinkable Rubber Ducks also had Brookmyre's unabashed cheesecloth-grabbing, caustic, lucid, and very funny observations on the whole subject of spiritualism. Penn Jilette would be proud!
Add to that, a whole plethora of twists, deceptions, denouments, and a series of one-fingered salutes to the likes of Derek Acorah & Uri Geller, the only people who wouldn't like it are spiritualists afraid of having their bubbles burst, and anyone who is a little unhealthily obsessed by whether Parlabane is 'on form' or 'off colour' in each of Brookmyre's Parlabane books.
To the latter, I say 'Away wit' ye!'. Like all good recurring main characters, from Poirot to Rebus, moderation is the key. Parlabane is utilised well in this book. If he was too prominent, the story would be overwhelmed. Parlabane is a great spokesperson for unflinching no-nonsense rationality, so maybe it's a bit like shooting fish. It's still funny as hell! If you really need it to work, just imagine that it is not THE Jack Parlabane, but Jack Parlabane's long lost twin brother, who also happens to be called Jack. - Too much of a strech? Come on. You can do it. It's only fiction after all!
Christopher Brookmyre's latest novel is a return to satire on the idiocies of modern life; in this case the world of the spiritual and paranormal, the conmen who sell it and the numpties who still buy it(Richard Dawkins would love this book). It also sees the return of reporter and professional sceptic Jack Parlabane. As usual with Brookmyre it is satire topped off with comedy, sarcasm, cultural trivia (the man knows his Firefly) and the odd dollop of murder.
It is also ingeniously plotted, with multiple twists and numerous cases of misdirection, many of which will fool most readers. Although the choice to have multiple narrators does make it a little difficult to get into the book, and the plot makes it necessary for Parlabane to be less than his usually razor sharp self (something I feel others have unfairly criticised it for) nor is the comedy as pitch-black as Jack's last adventure in Be Mine Enemy. This is a far more accessible book than either that or Hard Black Pencil, dealing as it does with far more widely recognised issues or situations and with a gentler tone than some other Brookmyre works.
That's not to say that the author has gone soft. There is still a strong anti-establishment edge to his work (politicians, the popular press and organised religion all get targeted along with the world of 'woo' as he calls it) and a healthy amount of sarcasm. There's just less ultra-violence than was present in Be Mine Enemy and its less Scotland-centric than Hard Black Pencil.
Overall its a clever, amusing and entertaining attempt to knock down one of the less appealing elements of modern society and to argue for rationality over superstition. Whilst never reaching the heights of Brookmyre's best works it is still a very good book that will appeal to anyone of a rational disposition (although not to those who believe in 'woo' or what the Daily Mail tells them)
on 28 August 2012
If you write a ghost story which examines ideas of religion, spirituality and faith, and then dedicate it to Richard Dawkins and James Randi, then obviously you're coming from a very particular place. And indeed there are long tracts of this novel which are a sceptic's - or indeed, a cynic's - wet dream. Some of the more outré beliefs of spiritualists, mediums and their ilk are taken out and given a right kicking, whilst religion itself - particularly Christianity - is treated to a Glasgow kiss. Now I speak as someone who is fairly sceptical and cynical (full disclosure: I was raised by fundamentalist atheists) and so I found a great deal of this book thoroughly enjoyable. But, I also did have a sense that I was trapped in a room watching a really clever undergraduate ride his hobbyhorse nearly to death. It's all very clever, it knows which points to hammer home to really earn a cheer, but the whole is all a bit sound and fury. After all, Brookmyre must know he is preaching to the converted and that a book like this won't change anybody's mind.
`Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks' - the title apparently comes from a phrase coined by James Randi to describe those people who will continue believing in the impossible no matter what evidence you show them - pitches sceptics and believers into a full-on war. A financially backed television spiritualist campaigns for, and eventually gets, a seat to investigate psychic phenomenon in the Science department of a Scottish University. As more and more - seemingly unimpeachable - evidence of his supernatural skills are recorded, it is up to an extremely hard bitten journalist and a geeky student to try and discover whether our current scientific understanding of the world is absolutely wrong and there is such a thing as the other side, or whether there is some magnificent long con being played out.
Remember kids, if you ever find yourself investigating those who claim to have paranormal powers (and which of us doesn't at one point or another?) then don't take a scientist with you. Instead bring a magician.
This is a fun, entertaining and well paced novel with a lot of clever misdirection - but there are also a number of big, glaring flaws. Amongst the Scots on display there are some fine characters, but Brookmyre really does struggle to capture the American - and particularly New Orleans - accent. And for a book with the word `Unsinkable' in the title, the twists and turns of the rather convoluted plot do leave the story almost capsized by the end.
Christopher Brookmyre is an author who didn't flash across my radar until a recent visit to Edinburgh. Scottish bookstores like to put their own authors prominently on display. (I'm writing this review in Wales, and the same thing doesn't hold true in this corner of the United Kingdom). From this initial taster, he seems to me a fun writer with a lot of interesting ideas whose oeuvre it would be worthwhile exploring. Undeniably this is a flawed book, but it is a rollickingly good ride which manages to hit a lot of really good points in a truly amusing way.
on 17 September 2011
Do you believe in ghosts? Do we really live on in some conscious form after we die, capable of communicating with the world of the living?
Aye, right. That was Jack Parlabane's stance on the matter, anyway. But this was before he found himself in the more compromising position of being not only dead himself, but dead with an exclusive still to file. From his position on high, Parlabane relates the events leading up to his demise, concerning the efforts of charismatic psychic Gabriel Lafayette to reconcile the scientific with the spiritual by submitting to controlled laboratory tests.
Parlabane is brought in as an observer, due to his capacities as both a sceptic and an expert on deception, but his certainties crumble and his assumptions turn upside down as he encounters phenomena for which he can deduce no rational explanation. One thing he knows for certain, however: death is not the end - it's the ultimate undercover assignment.
The investigative journalist, Jack Parlabane, who sort of solves this crime, has appeared in four previous Brookmyre novels. He leaps off the page with all the force of Robbie Coltrayne's Cracker - and with as many opinions, which he doesn't shy away from sharing with the rest of us. So, in addition to enjoying a really well-crafted thriller with a number of BIG surprises that I didn't see coming, I was also treated to a series of intelligent discussions on the nature of belief, its impact on society and how it can be used to exploit victims when they are extremely vulnerable.
While I am not sure that Parlabane voices all of Brookmyre's beliefs, it is an intriguing change to come across a fictional crime-fighter with an instinctive dislike and distrust of the Establishment. Also refreshing to have said argumentative, awkward customer in a strong marriage... Brookmyre has cited Ford Prefect from Douglas Adam's Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy as his inspiration for Parlabane, commenting, `I always adored the idea of a character who cheerfully wanders into enormously dangerous situations and effortlessly makes them much worse.'
As I've mentioned, the plot is exceptionally well crafted. The setting - contemporary Scotland - works very well, and so it should, seeing as its Brookmyre's own stamping ground. His cast of characters are strongly depicted with convincing backgrounds, so when he shifts into the alternative viewpoints, they are as equally compelling as Parlabane. Despite the fact that this is a reasonably substantial read with plenty of musing about the state of the world, at no point did it drag. This is a skilful, intelligent writer, who manages to deliver the whole package with energy, verve and absolute confidence. The book won the 2007 Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Award for Writing. I'm not surprised - by any benchmark, it is an outstanding read.
on 7 July 2011
This has to be the best of Christopher Brookmyre's novels that I have read. In his surprise new post as Rector of Kelvin University, Jack Parlebane becomes involves in an experiment into psychic abilities, something he doesn't believe in... until things start to get weird.
I raced through this book in a couple of days. The plot was gripping and surprisingly believable given the subject matter. It is an unusual presentation from Brookmyre, and I must admit it kept me guessing for some time. There was one plot point that I saw coming, but my feeling is that the whole book had been leading me towards it and that the author's intention was for me to pick it up when I did rather than when the big reveal came along later.
It differs from previous Jack Parlebane novels in a number of ways, the most obvious being a lack of swearing, gore, and strong Scots dialect, all of which gives it a more authoritative and less comedic tone. It is told in the first-person, but from three main viewpoints, which at times appears deliberately confusing as you don't know at the start of each chapter which of the characters you are on board with. The new characters are all strong and well-rounded and I especially liked the many slightly geeky references.
Overall I found it to be a really enjoyable and even educational book and would certainly recommend it, although there will be those readers who won't be satisfied by how it all turns out at the end.
on 27 October 2012
Nice to see Jack back after a wee rest. There is no doubt that Brookmyre has tried to do something a bit different with this one but the flashbacks and the jumping between characters makes it difficult to follow at first and a bit of a chore to read, until the halfway point. Around the middle of the book the story picks up and starts to run, and although it kind of gets a bit predictable it does become quite enjoyable. The subject matter is entertaining, Brookmyre is a born cynic and the paranormal is ripe for his brand of scepticism. His treatment of the world of psychics and the paranormal raises quite a few chuckles at times and introduces some interesting nuggets of fact: I wasn't aware of 'Mr Splitfoot' and the birth of Spiritualism for example and it was something I later read up on. Unfortunately I feel that the story is so slow to start and the ending is so lame that this would be pretty low down on any ranked list of his novels. Nevertheless, if you like Brookmyre and you can pick it up cheap it'll help pass a few hours.