Brookmyre is one of the new wave of Scottish writers, surfing the convergence of the rise of video game culture and a new feeling of independence north of the border. Not an SF writer, but obviously having read writers like Banks, he crafts darkly humorous thrillers that know the tropes of their world. and are deeply cynical about the people that live in it. It's a combination I've often found attractive - it's what brought me to the gonzo journalism of Hunter S. Thompson and the dark electropop of Baxendale.
Raymond Ash is one of those folk who's drifted through life: degree, hit single, wife, the obligatory string of unusual jobs. Now with a young son. he's an English teacher, struggling to cope with Glaswegian kids and the strains of family life. The only thing that keeps him going is the odd game of Quake. Then, suddenly everything changes, when he sees an old university friend at the airport. The only problem is that his friend has been dead for three years. Meanwhile, Angelique de Xavia is on the trail of a freelance terrorist. A gun for hire, The Black Spirit, is believed to be in the UK, plotting one of his trademark atrocities. Could he be Ray's old university friend - the man with rock star dreams?
Their stories collide when Ray is shot at, kidnapped, and dragged halfway across Scotland. This isn't the Real Life he signed up for. But one thing's for sure: you don't mess with Quake-playing English teachers. Especially those skilled in the art of the Deathmatch.
Brookmyre crafts an excellent thriller, a story that grabs the reader at pushes into Ray's little world. You can feel his fear, and then join him as he screws his courage to the sticking place. He's a well drawn character, in a world where his opponents are ciphers, codenamed after rock band members. You quickly find yourself willing him on, feeling for him as he's beaten up and tortured. Ray is our everyman, caught up in a world he never made, and suffering at the whims of others. It's a shared triumph when he finally overcomes.
An excellent story, and a fun read (especially the Glaswegian school kids...). Recommended.