Black Widow: Christopher Brookmyre

“Just because you’re a psychopath doesn’t mean you can’t have emotional intelligence.”

Black Widow is the page-turning story of a talented, female surgeon who falls into disgrace through social media, only to recoup her life with a whirlwind romance with the seemingly perfect man. But six months later, he’s dead and she’s accused of his murder. …

black-widow

Diane Jager once had a job as a surgeon in a prestigious hospital, but she led another life, online, as Scapelgirl, running a blog in which she revealed the sexism she endured as a female surgeon and the difficulty of balancing personal and work lives. The problem is, when anonymity is used to push a personal agenda, well sometimes people go overboard, and that is certainly the case with Diane. Her blog became a cause celebre amongst other female doctors, for Scalpelgirl as an anonymous agent tackled issues (and people) she would not have wrestled in person. The rage of the blog took over, and Scapelgirl becomes known as Bladebitch by her detractors, her identity was revealed (along with some of her sleazier moves) and she was forced to resign. She takes a job at Inverness, her “penitential northern gulag.”

Despite the baggage she brought, she was too valuable a prospect for them to pass up, like a provincial football team happy to take on a flawed talent who had fallen from grace at one of the major clubs.

At her new place of employment, Diane meets IT tech, Peter, and against all the odds, they hit it off, rapidly becoming absorbed in each other. With Diane’s biological clock ticking away,  there seems no need to slow down.

Six months later, Peter’s car is pulled out of a freezing river. Peter’s sister Lucy contacts investigate reporter, Jack Parlabane, and tells him that she thinks her brother may have been murdered.

Black Widow is a very cleverly structured tale which begins in a courtroom and then goes back over time through several points-of-view. We see events through the eyes of two constables: Ali Kazmi and Ruben Rodriguez who are the first on the scene of Peter’s accident–the ones who break the news to Peter’s not-so-grieving widow. Then there’s Parlabane’s view. He’s still bruised from his divorce and a catastrophic dip in his career, so the Bladebitch case offers not only distraction but also possible career redemption. The third viewpoint comes from Diane aka Bladebitch herself; there’s a lot to like there (she’s driven, talented, extremely intelligent) but there’s also a lot to dislike: she’s cold, unapproachable and prickly.

This is someone you do not want to fuck with. This is a woman who will make it her purpose in life to settle the score. They say payback’s a bitch? Then believe me: you don’t want payback from the Bladebitch.

The novel’s clever structure (which is just a teensy bit manipulative but forgivable and within the realms of acceptability–unlike Gone Girl which crossed the line IMO) is bolstered by a certain synchronicity, so we see PC Ali Kazam concerned about a possible pregnancy while Diane longs for a child. We see PC Rodriguez leaving London for exile in Inverness (echoing Diane’s trajectory), and one chapter in which Diane comes to an important revelation is immediately followed by Parlabane experiencing a realization of sorts. The portions narrated by Diane are the strongest and the most compelling in the book; she’s a terrific character, and over the course of her narration, we begin to see exactly how her character became crafted by experience.

I guessed the book’s solution and that’s probably due to all my crime reading, but I still enjoyed the book very much indeed. Work-life balance, sexism in medicine, the mirages often encountered in relationships, all these issues are tackled rather well here, so combine that with a page-turning crime novel, and you have an excellent read.

Black Widow is the seventh in the Jack Parlabane series, and in spite of the fact that this is the first one (so far) that I’ve read, I had no problem reading this as a stand-alone.

Review copy

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19 Comments

Filed under Brookmyre Christopher

19 responses to “Black Widow: Christopher Brookmyre

  1. I’m not in the mood for that kind of book right now but it sounds like a good page turner.

  2. Great review Guy and another author I’ve never tried although I have heard good things about the books of course. I do like the sound of this one and I don’t mind a little bit of manipulation by the writer – after all what are fictional creations for?

  3. There’s been a lot in the papers here recently about female surgeons being pressurised by their bosses for sex and being bullied in other ways, so it’s good to hear about one who takes it up to them. The social media hookup is a very clever idea!

  4. That should be “pressured”. The idea of a pressurised surgeon is a bit scary..

  5. I’ve read Quite Ugly One Morning (the first book in the Jack Parlabane sequence) and while it was very tight I never went on to try any of his others. Brookmyre is perhaps a little too brutal for my tastes – or at least that’s the feeling I was left with at the time.

  6. Guy, have you ever read ‘Do No Harm’ by Carol Topolski? It’s essentially about a psychopathic surgeon. A really great, if terrifying, read and not one to dip into if you’re going under the knife any time soon…

  7. This sounds excellent. And I’m glad it’s not as manipulative as Gone Girl.

  8. I like the social media angle to the plot. It sounds realistic, these things do happen.

    I always say that I never publish anything that I would be ashamed of if my family, friends or coworkers read it.

    • Yes the social media angle is relevant. I agree w/re: publishing things but people rage, people drink, people act rashly w/ a lack of impulse control and there you have it.

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