My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’ve been a big fan of Chris Brookmyre for many years so I was pretty excited to get my hands on his new book Black Widow, the latest in the Jack Parlabane series. While I was a little bit worried at the start I have to say it didn’t disappoint. It’s a very well written, thriller with a lot of twists and turns that keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat until the very end. It’s definitely put me in the mood for more of his books.
Synopsis (from GoodReads)
There is no perfect marriage. There is no perfect murder.
Diana Jager is clever, strong and successful, a skilled surgeon and fierce campaigner via her blog about sexism. Yet it takes only hours for her life to crumble when her personal details are released on the internet as revenge for her writing.
Then she meets Peter. He’s kind, generous, and knows nothing about her past: the second chance she’s been waiting for.
Within six months, they are married. Within six more, Peter is dead in a road accident, a nightmare end to their fairytale romance.
But Peter’s sister Lucy doesn’t believe in fairytales, and tasks maverick reporter Jack Parlabane with discovering the dark truth behind the woman the media is calling Black Widow…
While I am a big Chris Brookmyre fan I have to admit that in the past I’ve leaned more towards the stand alone books or the Angelique Xavier series rather than the Jack Parlabane series. (I found they sometimes wandered a bit too far into political and social commentary for my tastes). As a result I’ve only really read one or two of the Jack Parlabane books and was definitely not up to speed on the series or characters. I found though, that despite this, it was very easy to get into. You’re quickly brought up to speed but in quite a subtle and natural way that mean this book could definitely work as a standalone.
The story starts at the trial of Dr Diana Jager, a surgeon accused of murdering her husband and is told through a series of flashbacks from the point of view of three different characters, Diana (the accused), Ali (the police officer who initially responded to the call) and Jack (a disgraced ex reporter approached by the sister of the victim to find the truth).
At the beginning I have to admit I found the switching narration and jumps through time a little confusing. It would take me a page or two to figure out whose story I was in and where I was in the timeline but I did get used to it and after a few chapters the voices become so recognisable you can identify them almost immediately. Some characters were more intriguing than others as you would expect but I did like all three in their own way.
The biggest draw for me though was Dr Diana Jager and the story of her relationship with Peter. She’s not exactly an objective bystander (being the defendant) but it was fascinating hearing her side of the story. She makes Peter out to be a con man, abuser and not the man she married but the whole time I was questioning her story. She’s a character you can relate to in many ways, an intelligent, ambitious woman trying to stand up for herself in a very male orientated career. I felt sorry for her a lot of the time. However you’re never sure if she’s really a victim in this or just a very clever and manipulative psychopath. I do love a complex character and she is definitely one of those.
Police officer Ali is another woman trying to get by in a male dominated career (a bit of a theme is this book) but is probably a softer and more obviously likeable character. She covered a lot of the police procedural stuff which was interesting but she also added a more human aspect to the police. She’s dealing with a personal crisis while trying to remain professional in front of new partner Rodriguez.
Jack was possibly my least favourite of the narrators. He’s just world weary and a bit of a misery but it was fascinating watching his methodical investigation to get to the unexpected truth.
There are quite a few twists and turns in this book and it definitely keeps you guessing. Was it an accident, suicide or murder? Is Diana a murderer or victim? What was really going on in the relationship? Was Peter the charming man he seemed or did he have an ulterior motive?
I will say, this is not an action packed thriller and it can be a little slow in places. It’s more a study of characters and relationships and is a lot more psychological. Personally I love that but I know others are looking for fast paced action so may be disappointed.
I have to admit it’s put me in the mood for a bit more crime fiction and a lot more Chris Brookmyre. I’m tempted to dig out some of the previous books in the series and give them another try.
Overall, I’d definitely recommend this whether you’ve read any Brookmyre before or not.
Thanks so much to NetGalley for providing me with a copy in exchange for a review.