Written by Brooke Magnanti — You may remember Dr Brooke Magnanti as Belle de Jour from just over a decade ago, when she was writing shrewd, funny and searingly honest accounts of her life as a high-class call girl. Her identity was revealed with some fuss and scandal in 2009, when she was working as a research associate in neuropathology at a British university. She has more insight than most into leading a double life and being exposed in a ruthless media scandal.
She uses this knowledge well in her latest book, her first stab at the thriller genre. Erykah Macdonald is our protagonist, and while she seems to lead a charmed life she has a past which is going to blow up into a media storm. Her husband is pretending to go to work in London’s financial district every morning, although Erykah knows that he is unemployed and paying their bills on credit. Erykah is trying to revive her career as a rower, their house is full of beautiful objects, but their lives are empty. The love has gone, if it was ever there in the first place. Erykah thinks she might be falling for her rowing partner and plans to leave her husband. But then he announces that he has won the lottery, their story hits the papers and Erykah’s past comes to haunt her once more.
The much-publicised lottery win turns out to be a scam, but what is the connection between that and a decomposing body found on a beach in the Hebrides? And why is the region’s local MP, Morag Munro, taking such a personal interest in the case? Then there’s the ex-army officer and Falklands veteran who has become the figurehead for a Scottish version of UKIP. Just how far is he willing to go to win a seat in the European Parliament?
The book is full of such questions and witty, close observation of character and situations. In its pages we encounter smarmy politicians, ambitious journalists, feckless husbands and surprisingly ethical assassins. As you might expect, no-one is perfect and everyone has something to hide, but the author manages to inject humour into such a tired cliché. The story cobbles together a variety of topical subjects such as the Scottish referendum, lottery winners being tricked out of their money, political infighting at Westminster, corruption and exposure on Twitter.
Brook Magnanti has something smart and funny to say about each of them, and it’s this gossipy, wry humour and occasional witty gem which kept me turning the pages. The disparate concepts she plays with do not quite add up to a convincing and coherent plotline. There are plenty of fun twists, however, to keep you on your toes and speculating about who is really pulling the strings
It’s hard to tell whether the thriller is the most suitable genre for this writer’s undeniable talent as a storyteller. While some of her descriptions and characterisations seem overlong and don’t add much to the story, her satirical turn of phrase and confident voice are fresh and exciting. It will be interesting to see what she comes up with next.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars