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Friday, 30 December 2011

A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil by Christopher Brookmyre

The reason I picked up this book is incredibly shallow. I liked the title. There was really no other real reason: I read the title, thought the premise was interesting and so I bought it. I'd never heard of it or the author before, so I had no clue what I was in for. It was an interesting experience, to be sure.

The premise is an interesting one to be sure: a murder investigation is going on as the story alternates between the characters involved now and what they were like during primary and secondary education. For me, the idea of previous ideas about people, especially those that you knew as a child, affecting your present day interactions with them was really interesting. The experience overall has even made me reconsider how I view people that I went to school with. The main way that I can explain this is through the characters of Robbie and Martin. At the beginning, I hated Robbie. He was every bully in primary and high school that picked on me because I cared about learning concentrated in one person; but as the novel progressed, you find out that he acts like he does because he's trying to live up to the images of his father and elder brothers, all of them criminals of the worst kind and all of them considering him to be not worth the effort. By the end, Robbie was my favourite, because underneath he was this insecure guy who wanted to belong with someone. Then you have Martin, who actually reminds me a lot of myself. At the beginning, he's the conscientious boy who thinks that by being a nice guy life will be good to him. After school has ended, he's bitter and contemptuous of those who have bullied him for being smart, an attitude that I can understand perfectly. But in the modern day storyline, he's still treating his old schoolmates as he would have twenty years before, at the end of high school, after the majority of them have moved on and become different people, some for the better and others not. It made me think about my own attitude; there are still people that I would be terrified to meet in the street, even after three years have passed since high school, because my opinion of them is solely defined by how they bullied me. There are people that I haven't seen since primary school, whom I regard with utter contempt because of their attitudes, and although it seems an elementary thing, I had never considered what these people would actually be like if I met them now, as an adult. In some ways it's a humbling and disquieting feeling, but in other ways it's quite liberating; for years I have struggled to get close to people, simply because I never knew if I could trust them fully. I have been getting better, but the consideration that change is given here has made me think that there shouldn't be any real reason that I should be scared of people after finding out that they were mean as a child. It's a good feeling. Those two characters are only examples of the similarly stellar characterisation that carries the entirety of the novel.
As you can tell, I really like this book, even though I wasn't all that impressed at first. I probably should mention a couple of things about the writing that may well put people off reading it that I noticed along the way. First of all is the language used in dialogue: considering that the setting is in Scotland, there is the use of dialect to denote strong accents; this can be a tad confusing at times, especially with the slang, but a glossary is provided at the back, so this is catered to within the text (or at least it was in my edition). The other thing that I noticed was the use of the present tense. Personally I had no issues with it other that a little confusion at first, but I have seen quite a few people complain about it, so I thought it a good idea to mention it.

Overall, a slow starter that won me over completely with its complex characters and their individual development as people. Also probably the only murder mystery that has made me reconsider myself as an individual. 5/5

Next review: The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker

Signing off,

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