Standalone or series
First time reading this author?
Why I picked this
I haven’t read a Chris Brookmyre book for a while. However, I’ve watched a few online book events he’s been involved in during lockdown, so when I saw this come up for review on NetGalley UK it was a good opportunity to try him again.
Review copy or purchase
Review copy via publisher Little, Brown and NetGalley UK in exchange for an honest review.
What it’s about
Millicent Spark is out of prison, but hasn’t found freedom in her life. Jailed for a murder she can’t remember committing, she’s finding it hard to readjust to life on the outside. Troubled film student Jerry is trying to escape the petty thievery of his past now that he’s at college, but he knows he’s different from everyone else staying in halls and feels he’s just unable to fit it. Together Millicent and Jerry go on an adventure to find their place in the world, and find out what really happened on the night Millicent’s life changed forever.
I’m not sure why, but it took me a couple of tries to get into this book. I picked it up and put it down a few times over a couple of days, but just wasn’t connecting with it. Then a few chapters in it clicked and I finished the rest in less than 24 hours.
That slow start is the only thing holding this book back from a five star rating, because otherwise this is a fantastic plot and characters. Millicent is in her 70s and feels very removed from the world. She’s living with two other women her own age, but her experience is very different from their’s and she begrudges their attempts to get her out and about.
Jerry also feels out of place. He’s staying in halls at uni, but feels like everyone else is looking down at him. When he spots an advert for a room to let in a house with three elderly women at much less rent than he current pays, he leaps at the chance.
Millicent and Jerry’s fates quickly become entwined kicking off a fast-paced race through France and Italy trying to find out what really happened in Millicent’s past.
The relationship between Millicent and Jerry is great. They don’t see each other’s age. They both love movies, particularly the horror movies which were the staple of 80s and 90s video shops. Fittingly their mission centres around a video tape.
The story is told jumping back and forward in time. References to Millicent tend to be set in the present, while in flashback she’s Millie. That makes it easier to quickly pick up on the when, but it’s the writing that really makes it effortless. The difference in attitude of pre-prison Millie and post-prison Millicent is threaded throughout the writing to make it easy to follow. The same goes for the handling of what is quite a complex conspiracy in the past and present. It never feels complicated to understand – a sign of a truly skilled writer.
Overall I loved it. The sketchy start could be more about my mood at the time of reading, than anything else. But, if you do find it slow to start do stick with it, as it very soon picks up and the rest of this journey is absolutely worth it.