Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Book Review: 'Black Widow' by Christopher Brookmyre

Diana Jager, a consultant surgeon in Inverness, Scotland, is known for her competence, toughness, and tendency to speak her mind, even if doing so brings her grief. Much to her surprise, a man who works in Information Technology, Peter Elphinstone, wins her heart during a whirlwind courtship. Another key character, disgraced journalist Jack Parlabane, is newly divorced, lonely, and desperate to restore his professional reputation. Jack gets his chance when Lucy, Peter's sister, encourages the reporter to find out what really happened when Peter's car veered off the road one night and plunged into icy waters. Was his death a mishap, suicide, or the result of foul play? As Jack digs deeper into Diana and Peter's relationship, he discovers that the newlyweds may not have been as blissful as they appeared.

"Black Widow" is a novel of misdirection, in which Christopher Brookmyre carefully doles out the information that he wants us to have. The facts he provides may be interpreted in a variety of ways, and as further revelations come to light, Jack reexamines events that at first had seemed straightforward. This is an intense and fast-paced thriller with a classic premise: an older woman falls for a younger man she barely knows. Diana, the first person narrator of her story, is a dedicated physician who hopes to combine a fulfilling and lucrative career with marriage and, if she is lucky, children. As the book progresses, the author introduces further elements that make us question what we think we know.

Jack methodically interviews those who knew the victim and his wife, hoping to understand what Peter and Diana were like, both as individuals and as a couple. Unfortunately, Parlabane is a bit slow on the uptake; it is only late in the game that he realizes how gullible he has been. This is a shocking tale of betrayal, greed, deceit, and cruelty that highlights the lasting effects of dysfunctional parenting; the blinders that prevent us from seeing what is right before our eyes; and the shortcomings of detectives who conduct perfunctory investigations instead of relentlessly cutting through layers of deception. Although readers may balk at the improbable conclusion, "Black Widow" is a compelling and disturbing work of fiction that, like a funhouse mirror, distorts our perceptions, making it difficult to separate truth from falsehood.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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