iain (m.) banks writes supersmart sci-fi books that “you wouldn’t understand, karen.”
but he also wrote this, which i am proud to say i completely understand, and i really enjoyed.
it is a crime thriller, set in a small town in scotland, which is presided over by two competing, but not actively warring, gangster families who have made their fortunes and reputations getting their hands dirty. and not by doing any manual labor, yeah? although whacking people is, i suppose, technically “manual.”
stewart gilmour has returned to his hometown for a funeral for one of the family’s patriarchs, after having been run out of town five years earlier in a “romeo and juliet gone bad” situation. he and his juliet didn’t plan a suicide pact so much as “he cheated on her,” and then had to escape to london when her thug-brothers came looking for him. he became successful in exile, but never really got over his past.
so now he is back in town for the funeral of the man who also happens to be his ex-fiancée’s grandfather. will he see old friends? will people try to hurt him?? will he reconnect with his scorned love? will he reminisce and kick himself for his mistakes?? will the two families start to feel the tension when the prodigal returns home?? will there be supplementary mysteries to drive the plot? yes, all of these things.
and it is very good. he does the smalltown thing so well, and his supporting characters are well-drawn and sweet and funny (or terrifying, depending on the character), and he manages to create a believable microcosm, complete with backstory childhood flashbacks and a shared history of loves and grievances. so many scenes came to life with a vibrancy that made me feel as though i were an observer rather than a reader, and the bantering and anecdotes were just spot-on. (the pop-tart story was probably the funniest one, with the most perfect delivery)
the only problem i had was with the pop-culture references. they seemed oddly misplaced in the world banks created, for some reason. it was the one instance where he didn’t seem in control of his prose, and they jutted out at me. maybe it’s because he has this reputation as being a brilliant, brilliant man, “you wouldn’t understand them, karen,” and when brilliant people talk down to us, it just feels off, but this might just be a personal gripe and others might not notice.*
but – yes – a great thriller with great characters. and i didn’t feel confused or dumb even once! at least, not because of the book – life is a different story.
* i have since read other reviews of this book on the goodreads, and no – it is not just me!! phew.