Bedlam

This isn’t the first piece I’ve written about something I’ve approached with a degree of trepidation. And it certainly won’t be the last but maybe that says more about me rather than whatever I’m writing about.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that I did approach Christopher Brookmyre’s new novel, ‘Bedlam’, with more than a little caution.

A little background on why this was the case. If you’ve made it this far you will almost certainly know already that it’s his first fully fledged SF novel. Equally my regular reader will know that, not only am I an SF fan but I am a fan of his previous thrillers and crime novels.

The notion of a Brookmyre SF novel should therefore be one of anticipation rather than trepidation. Yet, my least favourite Brookmyre book by some distance is ‘Pandaemonium’, his previous flirtation with SF.

So I’m delighted to be able to say that ‘Bedlam’ turns out to be one of my favourites rather than one to sit alongside ‘Pandaemonium’ in the extremely limited ‘disappointing Brookmyre novels’ category.

The book’s main protagonist is Ross Baker, a developer with an American high tech company based in Stirling, who has just found out that his girlfriend is pregnant. Yet when he is scanned by an experimental device, instead of returning to his desk, he wakes up inside a computer game he played as a teenager. The book follows Ross as he tries to work out how he got there and how he can return to the real world.

The odd thing is that, although the subject matter is absolutely a departure for Brookmyre, ‘Bedlam’ can really have been written by no-one else. His writing is as sharp and witty as ever and, in common with his previous thrillers, it’s an action packed adventure with a labyrinthine plot which constantly surprises.

It’s a book too that has some smart ideas about where our increasingly digital society may be heading (one of which is not a million miles from an idea in the first episode of ‘Black Mirror’s second series) and, in constructing his plot, Brookmyre plays with some very high concepts indeed.

Which leads to my one disappointment with an undeniably intelligent and entertaining book. The back story and its ideas really seem worthy of much greater exploration as does the future world, revealed at the end of the book, which feels frustratingly under used. To allow the story to focus on the action, too much crucial plotting is rushed and info dumped in the space of a few short pages when I feel greater emphasis on this material might really have enriched the book.

Quite whether greater use of these elements could have been accommodated earlier in the book without giving the game away (as it were) isn’t easy to say and certainly the drip feed of the future world builds the intrigue. But I can’t help feeling that greater use of some of this material could have elevated ‘Bedlam’ into a truly great novel.

As it is, ‘Bedlam’ provides evidence that Brookmyre can do a lot more than the pacy, slightly fantastical, thrillers that he’s known for.

And, perhaps most surprisingly of all, after 15 mainly excellent books, that he’s maybe only just starting to realise his full potential. Which is a really exciting prospect indeed.

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