Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Books: Pandaemonium by Christopher Brookmyre

I'm a big fan of Brookmyre's writing, particularly his Jack Parlabane series, which walks the line between political satire and crime thriller.  This, his thirteenth novel, is a standalone title which ventures into the realm of fantasy while still keeping the laughs coming. 

The novel switches between two settings and groups of characters.  Firstly, an American military base deep under a mountain in the Scottish Highlands, which, for reasons that quickly become horribly clear, is home not just to the soldiers but also to a famous physicist, an MoD biologist and a Cardinal from the Vatican.  Not far away, a group of sixth formers, their teachers and school chaplain, are at an outward bound centre for a retreat, the pupils having witnessed the murder of one their friends by another student.  An 'accident' at the base on the same night as the school disco soon proves to have far-reaching consequences for all on the trip.

One of my favourite things about the novel was the extent to which the teenage characters feel realistic: sometimes sympathetic, sometimes sweet, sometimes irrational, sometimes foul.  However the reader would be well served to not get too close to any one character, as this is a book where no-one is safe.  There is plenty of gore in Pandaemonium but it's of the cartoonish variety, where a horrific death often comes accompanied by a belly laugh.

It's also genuinely thought-provoking stuff, posing questions about the nature of civilisation and of evil, along with Brookmyre's familiarly skeptical take on religion.  Any novel which namechecks scientist Michio Kaku and devotes a fair amount of page space to discussions of various physics theories (the 'Many Worlds' interpretation[1]  being particularly important to the plot) is ok with me, as I'm somewhat of a physics geek.  In fact, this is a book designed for geeks: the music fans catered to by mention of the playlist at the school disco which culminates in Mogwai Fear Satan; gamers having plenty to enjoy in the frequent references to multi-player shoot 'em ups and quest games.

Pandaemonium is vintage Brookmyre: clever, funny, chaotic, bloody, bloody-minded and irreverant.  I heartily recommend you take a look.

[1] First formulated by Hugh Everett, who was Mark Everett off of Eels’ dad, fact fans.