Honestly, I don't know how it happened, but for some reason, I've just never got myself round to reading Christopher Brookmyre before. The titles of his books are impossible to ignore - Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks, A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil - and I've heard the stories that go with them are good too. There's a lot of good books out there that I haven't had time to read yet, but still I wish that I had been to visit Brookmyre sooner.
In Pandaemonium, a group of pupils from St Peter's High School are going on a retreat in the Scottish Highlands. It's not just a trip, but a chance to contemplate the recent murder of one of their classmates. That, and some underage drinking, a little bit of hash, and lots of hormones. But at the same time, there's a mishap going on with a huge military/scientific experiment that opens a portal to Hell and unleashes demons on the world. That's a whole lot of plot going on, and the two worlds collide in a fight for survival, while pupils and staff are also trying to make sense of their religious beliefs, and their sexuality.
The book is populated with soliders, scientists, priests, teachers, and pupils. There's even a handy list at the start of the novel - Adnan's Quick-Reference Gamer Guide - to remind the reader who is who. Initially, I was concerned how I was even supposed to use the character guide, how I'd even remember who anyone was. But, by the end of just 394 pages, I felt close to the majority of them. Brookmyre moved effortlessly from one character's head to the other. In the space of a paragraph, the writing could follow two characters: Brookmyre turned the narrative from one tone and voice to another in a seamless way that almost made sense. Some sections started and the character in question was immediately identifiable, so that when it came to those few sections in the head of the demons, it was very exciting. Or maybe I'm not describing this very well. It's like the Scrubs episode where JD touches Turk's shoulder, and then the narrative continues in Turk's mind, but then he touches someone else's shoulder, and it carries on with them, and back to JD. Doing that on paper, in sentences, and in a way that is coherent is super skillful. The writer in me was bubbling with glee. And the reader part was really enjoying itself.
So I had great fun with this book. It was the kind that you put down to do something else, but then you couldn't do that something else because you're too busy wondering what Caitlin and Rocks were getting up to (two of my fave characters), or how the argument of science vs religion was holding out. Pandaemonium is big, and it is clever. Now I just have to choose which Brookmyre book to read next.
P.S I read Pandaemonium as part of my Scottish Reading Challenge, to promote great Scottish fiction. Christopher Brookmyre's latest book When The Devil Drives was published this month.