Tag Archives: Jack Parlabane

The Last Hack: Christopher Brookmyre

“Who I really am is the person that exists online.”

Last year I arrived late to the Jack Parlabane series from Christopher Brookmyre with Black Widow, the seventh in the series. The series has followed the trials and tribulations of investigative reporter Parlabane, and in Black Widow Parlabane’s career is in the toilet. In The Last Hack, Parlabane, whose personal life is non existent, is hoping to revive his career. This thriller/crime novel presciently tackles hacktivism and corporate malfeasance.

The Last Hack

The Last Hack is partly the story of a young girl named Samantha Morpeth who, following the incarceration of her mother, is forced by circumstances to care for and support her sister, Lilly, who has Down’s Syndrome. Samantha is a powerless young girl whose life-path has been dictated by her drug addicted mother. Living in poverty,  bullied at school, rejected by the government agencies that are supposed to help her, Samantha is prey to her mother’s dealers who loot her home to make up for lost payment. It’s no wonder that Samantha, who is so powerless in life should turn to the internet to reverse her lowly position.

After Parlabane comes up with a story on hacktivism of a major bank, he is hired by Broadwave, “a burgeoning cross-media entity that has evolved from a completely new perspective upon news and technology.” Chances are he would have been passed over for the job were it not for his inside scoop from a hacktivist named Buzzkill. But when Buzzkill ends up in trouble, the hacker turns to Parlabane for help.  The job with Broadwave offers Parlabane a chance to get his career back on track but helping the hacker may jeopardize everything he stands to gain.

Unfortunately the plot of The Last Hack is quite convoluted. The book starts with a short prologue in which someone is “suffering the after-effects” of an electroshock device, and then the novel shifts to Samantha Morpeth who is sitting in a waiting room of a government agency. Then comes a section with someone calling around to a few different employees at the RSGN Bank. Then we switch back to Parlabane interviewing with Broadwave, and then it’s an internet chat between hackers. This is a group of hackvists known as Uninvited, and their next hack, against a major bank, is organised over chat. The chat is difficult to follow–not only the abbreviated computer-speak exchanges but again it’s a handful of characters who exist in cyberspace and have no other grounding. These strands connect, of course, but it takes an overly long time to connect the dots.

Free-floating prologues seem popular these days but when they’re followed by other seemingly unconnected strands, the book, instead of pulling the reader in, keeps the reader dancing on the periphery wondering what the hell is going on.  With the various strands packing the beginning of the book, it took me about 1/5 of the way through before I had a handle on what was happening. Once I got through the first 1/5, the plot took off. Of the two Parlabane novels I’ve read, I much preferred Black Widow.

Review copy

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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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