Pandaemonium Hardcover – 13 Aug 2009
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What kind of a writer is Christopher Brookmyre? He’s markedly – and bloody-mindedly -- unlike any other current purveyor of crime fiction. A darkly comic writer, perhaps? Yes, the work is fiercely, bitingly funny – but that term doesn't really sum him up. Perhaps a kind of strange venturer into the realms of the supra-normal, then? His new book, Pandaemonium, certainly suggests the latter, with its eye-opening use of elements of the fantastic and SF. But none of these terms really does him justice – and perhaps it’s a good thing that he can’t be pinned down to any one genre.
Pandaemonium bids fair to be Brookmyre’s most extreme entertainment yet – and (as usual with this author) it’s not for the faint-hearted. St Peter’s High School has a problem with its senior pupils – how to help them deal with death of a fellow pupil? The answer (it’s decided) is to be a cloistered retreat at an outdoor activity centre – it will be there, through the aid of programmes of counselling, discussion groups and (of course) prayer – St Peter is a religious school -- that the pupils will be able to adjust. Needless to say, the pupils themselves have other ideas – sex and general misbehaviour being their primary aims. But near the retreat, a highly secret military operations is in train -- one, unusually, that has the services of a religious adviser (and an eccentric one at that). Appropriate, as the experiment involves nothing less than the untrammelling of the forces of the netherworld. The pupils will find themselves fighting for their lives.
Does all of this sound outrageous? For many readers, perhaps – but Brookmyre fans will be rubbing their hands. The bloody chaos on offer is not, perhaps, vintage Brookmyre, but aficionados have no need to hesitate. Satisfyingly (as usual), the forces of the establishment (the Military, The Church) are given an enthusiastic going-over. --Barry Forshaw
** 'A perfect example of the bathos that the Glaswegian satirist uses so effectively, and an indication of the two worlds that are about to collide (ESQUIRE)
** 'The Scottish author sticks to anti-Establishment finger-pointing and satire that is becoming his trademark (SHORTLIST)
** 'It's the busload of teenagers who steal the show in a series of quite brilliant and very funny scenes . . . Very well-written, intelligent and daring (Harry Ritchie, DAILY MAIL)
** '(An) imaginative tale (Henry Sutton, DAILY MIRROR)
Top customer reviews
A group of Scottish teenagers are taken on retreat after the deaths of two fellow-pupils at their Catholic school - meanwhile, deep underground, the church and the US military have opened a hellmouth and it's only a matter of time before the demons get loose.
There's a surprising richness to the rather large cast of characters that makes it all the more believable - none seem to be particularly focussed on as a protagonist which means that all get the chance to have their personalities explored in depth as they are thrust into some rather unusual circumstances.
Violence and gore are to be expected from Brookmyre, and this novel fails to disappoint, and I was entertained by the impressive amount he manages to squeeze in. There are also a lot of more tender moments where the characters reflect and learn things about themselves.
Brookmyre is clearly on the top of his game with this book and I'm only upset that I have now read all his comic works and have no more to look forward to.
Firstly, despite some pantomime villains, I don't think it's hugely original. The best bits are reminiscent of the brilliant "A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil" (no complaints there right enough) but the less impressive gore-fest also seems a tad derivative and if you've read his back-catalogue you'll know from where!
Secondly, it's not quite as bitingly satirical as usual, except where the focus is on the kids, who are amazingly well-observed. In fact these kids are I think probably as good as anything he's written.
Thirdly, I don't mind suspension of disbelief, but it seemed like a fairly contrived mechanism to get to a familiar destination. However, my main criticism is that all the bad guys (however you might want to define them) were just a bit one-dimensional.
I'll still pre-order the next Brookmyre, but hopefully we'll get some complex and believable villains next time around, together with a rather more subtle plot.
Mad scientists/ soldiers/ priests open a gate in spacetime through which demons flood to slaughter innocent schoolkids. "X files" meets "da Vinci code" (but better).
I hadn't read any of Brookmyre's books before, which may be as well, because judging from other reaction this is not typical. However I found it a superb book - gripping, deep, mischievous, perceptive and just... well, basically just complete. Where to start? First, the characters were so real. Every character in the book is believable. That includes a whole busload of teenagers, together with the scientists and clerics who play the Frankenstein role - two quite different groups - but Brookmyre doesn't leave anyone out. For example, Sendak, the ex-soldier who runs the field activity centre the teenagers are staying at (and whose role is really to get them through the "demon" attack), is deftly portrayed: here it's the telling detail that does the trick, when he checks over the centre before they arrive, making sure everything is OK. For other characters it's the rhythmn of speech, their sparring with friends, or a look exchanged with a teacher. I could read this book just for the characters, even if nothing happened.
But then, lots does happen. One of the girls says towards the start that she doesn't want to be in a "teen prom film" but - if this was a film - it would be rather different; it's very gory once the "demons" turn up - no feelings are spared and some of those marvellously built up characters come to nasty ends. Then the kids begin to fight back, and you cheer them on, you really do.
It isn't a film, though. In mode and structure, the book takes its cue from a video game with one of the central characters, Adnan, making the comparison explicit. I have to confess I'm no great fan of video games but if someone made a game of the book, I might just be tempted.
What else? Did I mention that this book has depth, too? At its heart is a debate about the existence of God - how's that for depth? Because if demons exist, so must God(?) So the question of what - exactly - comes out the woods to attack the schoolkids is of some importance, and some of the characters have an interest in spinning the answer. That's where, if anywhere, I feel the story comes a bit unstuck as we follow the thoughts of one of these creatures, which perhaps gives a little too much away. And I was left a bit confused at the end about just who set the demons loose in the first place. I think I'll have to reread this, but it's a book that will easily bear a second read.
One final quibble (and talk about fools rushing in where angels fear to tread) but I don't think that if James VI of Scotland/ I of England had caught a demon, he would have supplied it to the Vatican for their secret collection: James was a Protestant monarch. (Unless he was trying to make a point, perhaps...)
Anyway, highly recommended.
(Update 24/1/10 - Where the Bodies are Buried is due out in 2011.)
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