“Jerry crouched alongside Millicent’s bed and checked again for a pulse.”
When Millie Spark wakes up to find her boyfriend stabbed to death in the bed beside her, their last night of drugs and booze – plus a locked door – paints her as the only suspect. The press takes delight in decrying her career as a special effects make up artist for the goriest of horror movies as further proof that she’s a degenerate, twisted by her love of fake blood and gore into perpetrating the real thing.
Almost a quarter of a century later, Millicent, as she now goes by, is trying to readjust to normal life outside of prison. Taken in by her late brother’s sister in law, she struggles with pretty much everything. Then she meets film student, Jerry. Jerry has his own issues, but he’s trying – maybe not quite hard enough! – to put his teenage years of crime behind him and make something of his life by following his passion for film. Horror films, of course – including an infamous title that no one has ever viewed, lost to time, and said to be cursed after cast and crew members started dying. A movie that Millie remembers rather well….
It’s been a long while since I read Christopher Brookmyre’s Jack Parlabane series, but with the shortening of the author’s first name comes a more serious and grown up kind of a tone. There are still moments of humour here, but it’s between the characters rather than in the narration, making for a much more taut and edgy thriller.
And oh, but I loved it! I wolfed the whole thing down almost as quickly as I could, caught up in the twisty mysteries and loving the glimpse behind the scenes of a movie-making world. The narrative is split between Millicent’s and Jerry’s stories, including regular flashbacks. Some of those mid-90s scenes of the B-movie excesses were just wonderful, so richly told without feeling like they were pulling you out of the main narrative at all. It helps that the characters are great. Millicent’s story is so tragic, there’s such value in seeing the broken 70-something and then a glimpse of her working in her heyday. Jerry on the other hand shouldn’t be likeable, really, and yet his underlying decency and friendship with Millicent have you caring about him, too. I could have done without the Scottish dialect though – and I am Scottish! – but the whole ‘disnae’ and ‘oor’ and what have you stuff leaves me cold.
The story gets a little wild – I won’t spoil a thing about the escalating events! – but never shoved me out of my suspension of disbelief. It did keep me guessing pretty much to the end, too. And oh, but would I love to see that movie!
Very recommended – it’s a great mystery, with interesting characters, and a fascinating setting. And I don’t just mean Glasgow (although so many moments of “I’ve been there!”), but the very real-seeming glimpse into the world of low-budget horror movie making, which I just loved.
NetGalley eARC: 416 pages
First published: 4th March 2021
Read from 22nd-25th February 2021
My rating: 9/10