Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Christopher Brookmyre breaks a rule ...

... and it's a big one, too. I don't mean the rule that says never build a humorous scene around bodily functions. In fact, bodily functions take second place to a misplaced vibrator and slip in just ahead of a broken ankle and a string of double entendres in the scene in question, from Brookmyre's novel Boiling a Frog.

No, the rule is that which enjoins authors to show rather than tell. An early scene between a pair of political minders breaks off for a lengthy flashback on the life, philosophy and political predicament of one of them. That's ten pages in which conversation comes to a halt, and action stops. It's a daringly long piece of back story, especially in a genre normally built around plot.

But the flashback, even if surprising and a bit worrisome at first, works on at least two levels. First, parts are bitingly funny:

"There was no more selfish urge in the human condition than sexual desire, and therefore no urge more capable of compromising all other moral considerations. In a sense, it brought out the little Tory bastard in everyone. It was about me, me, me: ego-driven individualism, id-driven indulgence, and it didn't care who got hurt, neglected or abandoned in the process."
I would hope that even incensed Conservative readers give Brookmyre credit for the virtuoso feat of turning sexual license, a sin of the Left in contemporary political demonology, into a defining vice of the Right.

Second, the flashback goes a long way to setting up a tension Elspeth Doyle, the political fixer whose life and opinions it recounts. Brookymyre does not wait long before exploiting that tension for narrative effect when Doyle meets the man at the center of the bodily-functions scene with which this discussion began.

I'll have more to say later, but for now, I'll leave off with a line typical of Brookymyre's wicked humor and also of Scottish crime fiction's tendency, as raised by a comment on this blog, to use the sports team a character roots for as an indicator of his or her social position. This time it's Jack Parlabane, Brookmyre's scapegrace journalist of a protagonist, who finds himself in jail and, to his surprise, feeling briefly like his criminal cellmate who is, incidentally, a Catholic:

"Don't be a prick, he told himself. At this rate, within a week he'd be planning his next 'job.' A fortnight and he's have a Rangers tattoo."

A question to readers: What other crime fiction writers breaks the "rules"? Does the rule-breaking work?

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