Black Widow
Christopher Brookmyre
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Buy *Black Widow: A Jack Parlabane Thriller* by Christopher Brookmyreonline

Black Widow: A Jack Parlabane Thriller
Christopher Brookmyre
Atlantic Monthly Press
432 pages
November 2016
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Brookmyre once again proves his chops in what is perhaps the best of his Jack Parlabane series. Unfurling a dark and twisted tale of a clever and calculating woman, Brookmyre moves from disciplined first-person narrative of renowned surgeon Dr. Diana Jager to disgraced journalist Jack, as he sits in on a trial of the so-called ďblack widow.Ē Also, part of the narrative are PCs Ali Kazmi and Ruben Rodriguez and their investigation into the unexpected death of Dianaís husband, Peter Elphinstone. The Black Widow is one character who constructs something that is elaborate and deceitful; a woman who is rumored to have murdered her husband in a crime of passion and a moment of madness.

The novel begins with the trial but quickly descends into the months of Diana and Peterís troubled marriage, a relationship that is as emotionally embittered and as chaotic as the couple in Gillian Flynnís Gone Girl. After a series of personal and professional setbacks, Diana Jager, the singleton surgeon who was thrilled to find love, is now heartbroken that Peter, her husband of only six months, has lost his life. Lucy, Peterís sister who enlists Jack to investigate her brotherís death, was worried about Peter and how he almost lost control of the car at Widow Falls, a notorious stretch of road outside of Inverness. This was the exact same place where Peterís black BMW was supposed to have gone into the river.

Brookmyre unfolds Dianaís life in what will soon become a hollow imitation of a marriage and the perfect environment in which to nurture a clever psychopath. Diana is clearly in a brittle state of mind when Peter, newly hired by the IT department, arrives at her office to help her when sheís inexplicably shut out of the hospitalís intranet. Diana has been trying to live down the notoriety she achieved when she ran a blog anonymously slamming her colleagues and members of the ID apartment in her previous job in Edinburgh. Peter only vaguely knows that Diana was the nameless author of the now infamous ďsexism in surgery blog,Ē which in turn caused her to be nick-named ďBladebitchĒ--part agony aunt and part firebrand polemicist who collated tales of work-related misogyny.

Within a few weeks of meeting Diana, Peter is proposing marriage, this boyishly cocky man who is also fielding investment in his new revolutionary IT idea. Diana finds herself regretting how much time and energy she placed her marriage at a cost to everything else. Meanwhile, Aliís suspicions are aroused when she leaves Jagerís home. Ali has a sharp instinctive sense that something is not quite right. The sum of her evidence--a small bruise on Jagerís cheek and Aliís personal impression that Diana didnít seem sad enough--is just not enough to accuse Jager of murdering her husband.

Brookmyreís genius is that he can so manipulate circumstances and impressions that the reader is often left reeling as each flawed character continues to lie and cheat and betray. Even Jack feels party to a violation when he views the final, terrible clue: a sex tape made in a despicable combination of intrusion and malice. The revelation of the tape is only possible due to the greater crime that preceded it: the betrayal of Diana Jagerís most sacred trust. Peterís behavior, meanwhile, remains perplexingly secretive as Diana embarks on a road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia. For Kazmi and Rodriguez--and for Jack--Peterís final desperate phone call remains an enigma. Diana and Lucy and all of the other witnesses to Diana and Jackís marriage are reluctant to reveal the dark secrets that propelled Peterís motives, this angry, privileged man who ends up existing in what is nothing more than a marital facade. Of course, Peter has a secret, but Brookmyre doesnít reveal it until late in the novel.

Shepherding the very best of Patricia Highsmith, Brookmyre astounds with his ability to portray discreet malice. In a plot full of complications, all that remains is Jackís efforts to solve Peterís murder, a secret that leads him down a serpentine path that culminates in the memories and surprises of two cowering, damaged souls who have violated the accepted order while transgressing one of the oldest unwritten rules.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2017

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