Christopher Brookmyre has written a great number of books, not always to a wide audience but to a very loyal one. He is probably best known as working in what is called the “Tartan noir” genre. Arguably, his recently introduced Jasmine Sharp series set in his native Scotland --- consisting of WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED from 2012 and the newly published (in the United States) WHEN THE DEVIL DRIVES --- does not fit neatly into that classification. Still, that is no reason for Brookmyre’s fanbase to turn away from him.
The elements that have attracted readers to Brookmyre since his early efforts are abundantly present in his latest work: complex plots, deep examinations into those dark aspects of the human personality and psyche that are simultaneously fascinating and repellent, and, at the core, a puzzling and intelligent mystery or two. It is difficult to imagine what more one could ask for.
"I was a huge fan of WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED. In WHEN THE DEVIL DRIVES, Brookmyre does an excellent job of advancing the general storyline concerning Sharp while meeting and exceeding the bar of expectation the first volume created."
WHEN THE DEVIL DRIVES opens with Sharp having inherited her uncle’s private investigation agency, where she had been employed on a part-time basis while attempting to pursue an acting career. Having demonstrated a skill at locating missing persons, Sharp is retained by a new client to find her younger sister, Tessa Garrion. The case is colder than cold --- Garrion disappeared some three decades before --- but Sharp, as one might expect from her previous outing, is undaunted. Interestingly enough, the investigation takes her back to the world of the arts, specifically the theater.
It turns out that the missing woman was not living the life of a nun when she disappeared. Rather, she was a somewhat frequent visitor to an estate retreat where the occult in its more extreme forms was practiced, and drug use and abuse were the norm. Among the retreat’s patrons were many who were involved in Scotland’s art scene, including some whose influence extends far beyond the theater. Sharp is warned off her investigation when she begins to obtain solid leads but also digs too deeply into matters that have lain dormant for decades. However, she is undeterred and thus plunges straight ahead into deeper danger as it becomes clear that Garrion’s disappearance was the result of foul play.
Meanwhile, a far more recent death is the subject of a separate investigation by Police Detective Superintendent Catherine McLeod, who is tasked with looking into the murder of a prominent actor following a live Shakespearean performance and during a post-play photo-op. McLeod believes motive is the key here, yet is led down several false paths, possibly deliberately. As one might expect, her case begins to slowly intersect with Sharp’s (one of the book’s very few elements that is somewhat predictable), despite the marked difference in time that separates the subjects of the inquiries, with the most notable common element being the great degree of danger that both investigators face as they come ever closer to the truth.
I was a huge fan of WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED. In WHEN THE DEVIL DRIVES, Brookmyre does an excellent job of advancing the general storyline concerning Sharp while meeting and exceeding the bar of expectation the first volume created. While Brookmyre’s long-time readers may be a bit unsettled by the slight turn in subject matter, their time and interest in delving into these two books will be more than rewarded.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 28, 2013