Quite Ugly One Morning

Christopher Brookmyre

Christopher Brookmyre - one of the Hound's greatest living crime writers - tackles social and political issues with his brand of comedy and action. This is his first novel.

 

Quite Ugly One Morning is the book that made Christopher Brookmyre a star in his native Britain, establishing his distinctive, scabrously humorous style and breakneck, hell-for-leather narrative pacing. The novel that won the inaugural First Blood Award for the best debut crime novel in the United Kingdom is now available in America for the first time, and comic crime writing on this side of the Atlantic may never be the same.Quite Ugly One Morning introduces Brookmyre's signature protagonist, the hard-partying, wisecracking investigative journalist Jack Parlabane, who is not afraid to bend the laws of the land (or even the laws of gravity) to get to the truth. Parlabane is nursing a horrific hangover when he stumbles across the corpse of the scion of a wealthy Edinburgh medical family. Determined to get to the bottom of the murder himself, he quickly becomes enmeshed in a wild adventure that will take him through all the strata of Edinburgh society and into some dangerous (and hysterical) situations. Laced with acerbic wit and crackling dialogue, Quite Ugly One Morning is a wickedly entertaining and vivacious thriller.

Journalist Jack Parlabane has just returned from Los Angeles to Edinburgh after narrowly escaping some rather nasty people who didn’t want him to pursue a big story he’d uncovered. He wakes up one morning with an awful hangover to an unusual commotion. On the way downstairs to see what’s happening he finds he’s locked himself out of his flat. Remembering he’s left his window open, he’s hoping to get in through the corresponding window in the downstairs flat. Half-dressed, he goes to the flat only to discover a gory murder scene. Dr. Jeremy Ponsonby has been brutally murdered in what looks like some sort of ritual killing. That’s when DC Jenny Dalziel catches Parlabane at the crime scene.At first Dalziel is sure that Parlabane must be the killer, but he is able to convince her that he’s not guilty. When she finds out he’s a journalist who’s not overly concerned about keeping people in power happy, she realises that he may be of help to her. Likewise, when Parlabane learns that Dalziel is very pragmatic when it comes to solving cases, he realises that she could be an excellent resource for his story. So the two begin working on the case, each from a different angle. A third angle comes from the victim’s ex-wife Sarah Slaughter, an anaesthesiologist who is interested despite herself in what exactly happened to her former husband.

Each from a different perspective, Dalziel, Parlabane and Slaughter look into the murder. There are several possibilities too. For one thing, Ponsonby was known to have a gambling problem, so one of his gambling lenders might have decided to make an example of him. Then, there’s his ‘hospital life.’ He might easily have made enemies there too. As the three get closer to the truth, it becomes clear that Ponsonby’s murder is the proverbial tip of an iceberg. There is much more going on than it seems on the surface, and if Parlabane can stay alive long enough, he’ll have a career-making story.

This story has a political thread running through it. Without spoiling the plot, I think I can say that readers who are interested in the way health care, politics and government work (or don’t work) together will be pleased. The novel raises some interesting and scary issues.There is also a great deal of wit, both in the dialogue and in Brookmyre’s writing style. Plenty of the humour is what I would call cheerfully profane, and readers should know that some of the descriptions in the novel, especially of the crime scene, are not at all for the faint of heart. But it is all in keeping with the screwball noir kind of story that this is. Despite the wit, the story itself is very sobering. I don’t want to give spoilers, but the prospects raised by the story are frightening, mostly because when you strip the fictional elements away, they’re not that far from possibility.

The three main characters are another important element in this novel. Jack Parlabane is street-smart, intelligent and refreshingly free of a lot of personal demons. He can be glib and he’s not above things such as breaking into a crime scene to get a story. Both Jenny Dalziel and Sarah Slaughter wonder more than once just how reliable he really is. But Parlabane has a core of decency. When he finds out what exactly is behind Ponsonby’s murder, he is determined to get the person responsible, for reasons I can’t give away for fear of spoilers. It’s not hard to be on his side, even as you may want to smack him for taking chances he shouldn’t.

As for Dalziel and Slaughter, they are strong characters in their own right. Readers who are looking for strong female protagonists will be pleased with these women. Each is unique, but both are intelligent, resourceful, good at their jobs and interesting. And neither is at all afraid to tell Parlabane when he’s gone too far. The three protagonists work well together and complement each other.

Quite Ugly One Morning is a comically dark, sometimes quite gory, often very witty look at what happens when medicine, politics and greed get too friendly with each other. It features strong protagonists who don’t take themselves overly seriously, and it offers some thoughtful social commentary in the midst of it all.

Review by Margot Kinberg, Confessions of a Mystery Writer

About Christopher Brookmyre:

Christopher Brookmyre is a Scottish novelist (from Glasgow) whose novels mix politics, social comment and action with a strong narrative. He has been referred to as a Tartan Noir author.

A former sub-editor in London and Edinburgh, his debut novel was Quite Ugly One Morning, and subsequent works have included the excellent One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night, which he said "was just the sort of book he needed to write before he turned 30".