I must confess, Jack Parlabane isn’t my favourite of Chris Brookmyre‘s characters, even if he is the author’s most famous creation. There’s something about the grumpy journalist willing to resort to unethical methods in pursuit of a good story that normally just doesn’t click for me.
In Black Widow, Brookmyre’s latest (published by Little, Brown, who gave me a review copy through NetGalley), Parlabane is approached by the sister of a man killed when his car apparently ran off the road in an accident. The sister believes her brother was murdered by his wife, a surgeon, who used the ‘accident’ to cover up the murder. Scenting a story, Parlabane agrees to investigate. From there, the story rattles along at a satisfying pace as Parlabane and the police investigate in parallel. As always, it is full of satisfying twists and turns and surprises.
The Parlabane of Black Widow is a diminished man. He is separated from his wife and living in a post-Leveson world of online media and recycled press releases that has little place for a journalist of his skills. He ekes out a living writing content-less content for various online publishers: puff pieces and glorified advertising material. In many ways, this bitter and self-pitying man is a more interesting character than the at times overbearing investigative journalist at the peak of his professional success.
But the real strength of Black Widow for me is in its portrayal of Diana Jager, the surgeon accused of her husband’s murder. Jager has a controversial past: her anonymous blog about sexism in the medical profession went viral after she was critical of hospital IT staff. Jager became the victim of doxxing and death threats, ultimately losing her job. In Black Widow, Brookmyre examines the way we judge women, particularly those bold enough to articulate their opinions, and the prevalence of threats of violence to silence them. Any woman who does not conform to a meek, wholesome stereotype is vulnerable to suspicion. Although she was the undoubted victim of online harassment, the episode makes it easy for people to suspect her of the revenge murder of her hospital IT worker husband of six months. The parallels with cases like that of Christopher Jefferies, whose reputation was destroyed by the media when he was arrested for the murder of missing woman Jo Yeates are obvious. (She was actually murdered by a neighbour.)
This contemporary, thoughtful sensibility is what lifts Black Widow, as so much of Brookmyre’s work, above the normal run of comic thrillers.
Goodreads rating: 4*