Although Brookmyre’s style is rather staid and plodding, he’s an able storyteller, chronicling the British criminal underworld in which embattled journalist Jack Parlabane must stand up to those accusing him of employing computer hacking and unauthorized invasive and covert electronic surveillance. Lately Jack
has been trying to get back in the game so that he can show the world--and also Sarah, his estranged wife--that he does indeed possess principles in a profession that often chews you up and spits you out.
Jack is thrust back into the private detective bit when he gets a call from old friend Mairi Lafferty, asking him if he can help her find Heike Gunn from the band Savage Earth Heart. Heike herself has a developed a reputation for being a bit of a “manipulative psycho bitch,” a phrase that best suits all the accounts that Jack has heard. With the world at her feet, Heike went missing in Berlin on the final day of the band’s European tour--and she hadn’t been seen since, neither back to her flat in Glasgow nor anywhere in Germany. The last person to see her was Monica Halcrow, the band’s new lead violinist, who says that she saw Heike that morning at sound check. One minute the eyes of the world were upon her, and the next Heike had “vanished from the face of the Earth.”
Mairi, the band’s manager, is clearly exasperated and genuinely worried. She
pleads with Jack to help her find Heike, telling him that discretion is
everything. Mairi is forced to cancel the rest of the tour while Jan, the tour manager, gets in touch to say Heike was ill: she had a major breakdown on-stage in Hamburg two nights before she went missing. At first, Jack thinks it's all a publicity stunt, and yet as he scrapes away the façade, carefully interviewing the band members
(Damien, Scott and Rory), taking note of their dynamics and subtle body language, the boys inadvertently betray certain faultlines and allegiances. Heike was big news, fast becoming one of Britain’s most iconic musical figures. She also courted controversy and baited the tabloids with an “alacrity that bordered on recklessness.” Heike was the glue that held the band together, and people were drawn to her almost hypnotically: “there was something about her that made you want to be in her presence and touched by her grace.”
Descending through a dark and tangled web of associations, Jack descends into a world where “sex and drugs and rock n roll” form an uneasy alliance with sleaze and the corporate machinations of Bad Candy, Savage Earth Heart’s management company, who claim to supply their own personnel and control illegal drug sales to the musicians on their tours. But as Jack learns that the leaders of Bad Candy are perhaps nothing more than enterprising opportunists, he continues to be stymied at the whereabouts of Heike--that is, until he gets a lead that she might be hiding out on an isolated Scottish Island.
From a rock band’s tour bus that could be the perfect cover for trafficking girls around Europe to a series of naked pictures released all over the
Web, Jack and Mairi find their own lives are at risk when they pursue Heike’s connections from Glasgow to Berlin, perpetually on the hunt for clues to human trafficking and white slavery, hot on the trail of a girl who left to go on a tour but never came back. Chased across Berlin, “a place stalked by history,” the stakes
are undoubtedly high with a bright young woman still inexplicably missing.
The story is harrowing and there’s plenty of action to keep the reader interested, but I often found myself confused by the storyline. Unlike some books where this confusion drags on and on, by novel’s end, most of these questions are soon answered, at least in part. Brookmyre is a competent writer, yet his choice to alternate between Monica’s first-person blog, detailing the events leading up to Heike’s disappearance (and Jack and Mairi’s race to find her), actually slows the pace of narrative. This even extends to the climax, which is a little underwhelming
despite having just the right amount of intrigue to keep our attention right up until the end.
Monica is a dreamer destined to suffer the inevitable blows of reality. Plagued with guilt, she tells us that if she’d done things differently, Heike would be here today. From the outset, the anxiousness of Jack and Mairi is obvious. In this tale steeped in violence and mayhem, Monica and Heike’s errors in judgment coincide with a world of danger and angst, where a disconsolate, beautiful girl drifts valiantly, closed off and protected by a veritable wall of glass.