reviewed by Andrew Smith
The Cut opens with the discovery of a murder scene and then quickly steps back in time. Have we just seen how the story will end and is it now just a question of how we get there? Perhaps, but beware: this is a book that will require you keep your wits about you, to be observant and to read between the lines. Even then I’ll be surprised if you’re able to predict how this one will play out.
We’re introduced to two people, both misfits in their own way. Jerry is a young man studying for a Film and Television degree at Glasgow University. He was brought up by his late grandmother in a village some thirty miles south of the city, his feckless mother having abandoned him early on. Having been lured into petty crime by a local hard case, he decided to leave that world behind following a burglary that went badly wrong. But though he enjoys his course, he’s struggling to adapt to living alongside students from more affluent backgrounds. Millicent is a seventy-two-year-old former special effects make-up artist who has worked on numerous low budget horror films. She’s lost all of her confidence following a forced period of confinement and these days just the thought of popping into a café to buy a cup of coffee is likely to induce panic.
Jerry is keen to escape from his halls of residence and when a house sharing opportunity arises he finds himself thrown together with Millicent and two other elderly ladies. A shared love of films quickly cements a loose alliance between Jerry and Millicent. It’s now that the skeletons in their respective closets start to rattle: the reasons for Millicent’s prior confinement is a lurking timebomb whilst Jerry’s lawbreaking past might be about to catch up with him. From this point on the story goes into overdrive as events force the pair to take drastic action. Woven into the story is the search for a copy of a legendary horror film, apparently it’s so scary that it was banned from release and is surrounded by more rumors and supposed curses than Tutankhamun’s tomb. What a tangled web this is.
I was really drawn to the relationship between this young man and his much older sidekick. I found myself feeling sympathetic to the plight of both of them and the dialogue between them is sharp and funny too. And the action comes thick and fast in the second half of this story, with the slight downside that more and more characters are introduced (thus forcing me to resort to note taking in an attempt to keep up). But the flow, though complex and requiring the reader to swallow a couple of improbable coincidences, follows a logical enough path and ultimately the tale’s clever dénouement successfully ties off most loose ends.
Chris Brookmyre is fine writer, his successful series featuring investigative journalist Jack Parlabane is testament to his longevity and his standalone novel Fallen Angel is perhaps the best mystery I’ve read in the last couple of years. Here he provides a gripping storyline replete with expertly drawn characters, a good helping of dark humor, and a plotline intricate enough to satisfy even the most avid armchair sleuth.