Given their adjacency in my A-Z list of authors reviewed, and the similar blue tones in their book covers, it seems a good idea to review these two books in one post, despite them being very different to each other!
Fallen Angel by Chris Brookmyre
It’s been far too long since I read one of Brookmyre’s books. I think I’ve read about half a dozen over the years, but all from his early days when his books were satirical comedy thrillers. Since 2012’s Where the Bodies are Buried, he’s mostly dropped the comedy and written as Chris rather than Christopher in a series of crime and psychological thrillers. He’s even moved his recurring hero who started his novel writing career off in Quite Ugly One Morning, investigative journalist Jack Parlabane, over into some of the ‘Chris’ books. When a copy of the latest ‘Chris’ book came my way, I dived straight in.
Fallen Angel is a psychological thriller with a dual timeline and multiple narrators. After the prologue in which a man is murdered at his desk, the main story begins in 2018. Separately we meet Ivy, a ruthless PR executive, and Amanda who is doing a favour for a family friend by being a nanny to their baby on a foreign trip. At the end of the first chapter Ivy’s sister Marion rings to tell her that Max Temple, the famous psychologist who debunks conspiracy theories, is dead. Amanda is nannying for Vince and his new trophy wife Kirsten with their baby Arron. The Temples own two side by side villas in an Algarve complex, Vince owns the third, they share a pool. Celia, Max’s wife, who before having a family had been a famous actress is a saucy vampire film, is convening the family in the Algarve to privately honor Max and scatter his ashes. Son, Rory will fly in from San Francisco. No-one knows whether Ivy, who used to be called Sylvie will come. The trip coincides with Vince’s group planning to be there, except Vince misses the plane – something came up, he’ll join Kirsten, Arron and Amanda as soon as he can.
The second timeline is set 16 years earlier. Both families were again present. Marion and Ken’s children Hughie and Lia pre-teens. Rory had an older girlfriend, Svetlana, who is in trouble with people traffickers, Ivy/Sylvie and her boyfriend Callum were there with their baby daughter Niamh, they are teenaged parents, Sylvie was just sixteen when she got pregnant. Meanwhile next door, Vince is with his first wife Laurie, a bit of a lush. Then, one evening, the worst happens, 18-month-old Niamh is missing, assumed to have crawled off to the cliff path where she liked to throw stones, her blankie is found there. The holiday ends in tragedy. After that is when Sylvie changes her name and goes it alone as Ivy.
The plot goes between the two timelines, outwardly getting more and more complicated. Some of the twists were signposted, and congratulating myself on them, I would then be forced to do a second take as that led to different consequences. Remember this is a battle between a conspiracy theory debunker and a ruthless PR executive who know how they work. Brookmyre gives only so much, then pulls the rug out to side trip us. The only problem with this novel was that at first it was hard to like any of the Temple family, or Vince and his coterie, but, as the truth comes tumbling out, you can (grudgingly perhaps) understand why and give some of them their due. (8.5/10)
Source: Review copy. Chris Brookmyre, Fallen Angel (Little, Brown, 2019) hardback, 304 pages.
Every Breath You Take by Mark Broomfield
Broomfield is an expert in atmospheric chemistry, air pollution in particular. We’ve all heard the headlines about increasing deaths from air pollution – although if you can remember when there was lead in petrol, everyone smoked and coal was the fuel of choice for home and business alike in the 1950s, it’s a new increase from a previously unmeasured low. Broomfield’s aim is to explain the roles of the different chemicals that play a role in our atmosphere and health with the aim of encouraging more to do their bit to help increase air quality.
Even he admits that the wood-burning stove he has had for the past years contributes towards what is known as our PM2.5 (Particulate Matter of ≤2.5 µm) emissions which is the size that readily gets into our lungs. According to Broomfield that headlines were correct a quarter of the UK’s PM2.5 emissions in 2014 were from wood-burning stoves.
But I’m jumping the gun there. Before we get to looking at all the problems that we are creating in our atmosphere, he takes us on a brief tour through the different layers from outer space inwards. Through the outer ionosphere, the mesophere where shooting stars are created by meteors burning up, into the stratosphere where airliners fly above the weather, past the ozone layer into the troposphere where we live and our weather happens. He explains the roles of the different gases that make up air and water vapour, before turning to pollutants – ozone, NOx acid rain etc and atmospheric chemistry in general. This book is primarily about air pollution, so while he acknowledges climate change, it’s not the primary focus, although air quality goes hand in hand with it.
Broomfield tries to keep everything easy to understand, using simple language as far as possible, building in plenty of popular references from Top Gear to his title for the book which comes from the Police song of course, and he injects humour where he can. Yes, there are a few chemical equations, a few complex charts, but they needn’t be offputting to the non-expert reader, being explained in the text.
Broomfield concentrates on where he lives and is a particular expert on, ie the UK, only venturing further afield occasionally to comment on the problems abroad, so this book may be of lower interest to readers outside the UK. However, this volume is full of good and useful information even if it is rather a dry subject, despite Broomfields’ attempts at humour and chattiness. I found it worthy but a bit dull to be honest, although I learned plenty which made up for it. (6.5/10)
Source: Review copy – Thank you. Mark Broomfield, Every Breath You Take (Duckworth, 2019), paperback original, 320 pages.