A darkened road in the dead of night. A car loses control on a tight bend, plunging into an icy cold, deep river known locally as Widow Falls. An anonymous call is made to the police from a later untraceable woman, and although they find the car, there is no sign of the driver. Have they been swept away in the current or has something more sinister taken place? Just what really did happen out on that road that night?
Diana Jager is a career driven and focused Surgeon. Determined to prove to her father that she can be every bit as successful as he was, and frustrated by a male dominated profession, she has a fierce reputation among her peers. When a blog she writes anonymously criticising the sexism in the medical profession and the incompetence of hospital IT is hacked and her identity is revealed, she becomes known to the world as ‘Bladebitch,’ a name and reputation which follows her all the way up the country to a new start in Inverness.
Having focused on her career, Diana has never realised how much she missed the simple things like being in a relationship and starting a family. Past relationships have been tainted by her reputation and she has resigned herself to her fate. Until she meets Peter. Ignorant and unfazed by her reputation, he asks her out and what starts as one concert, soon becomes a whirlwind romance. Within six months they are married. Within six months, Peter is dead.
When Jack Parlabane is approached by Peter’s sister Lucy, asking him to look into her brother’s death, he is certain that it is just a tragic accident. But once he is targeted by someone who seems to want him to keep his mouth shut, he starts to look further and begins to see the cracks in Diana’s story. With both the Police and Parlabane convinced that Diana was involved in Peter’s death, could it be that the highly skilled surgeon truly is a ‘Black Widow’.
‘Black Widow’ by Chris Brookmyre is a very skilfully written intellectual thriller. Told from two very different points of view, as a reader I found myself drawn into the story and completely immersed in the story of Diana and Peter.
A large portion of the book is told in Diana’s voice as she recounts the days in which she met Peter and slowly reveals the truth about their marriage. While it is clear that Diana is a very strong and principled character, she is also written in such a way that you can feel empathy towards her. At first I thought it was just going to be another portrayal of a highly career focused woman who therefore obviously had to also be a complete bitch. I mean, aren’t we all. You can’t possibly be female and successful if you are just nice, and you can’t possibly be at the top of your career unless you work harder and smarter than your male colleagues.
But Brookmyre has done a brilliant job of challenging that assumption. Yes, Diana has all of those qualities described above, at least that is the assumption of her colleagues, but she also has a very human, very basic side, which begs to be loved and to have a family. In the way he has written her and the portrayal of her, Brookmyre has also written a damning indictment of the way in which successful women are portrayed in society, a very, very topical area at this moment in history.
The other side of the story is told in third person, following Jack Parlabane as he watches the trial, and as his thoughts cast back to his investigations into Diana. I will be honest and admit, like many others, this is actually my first Jack Parlabane novel, so I don’t know if this is typical of how the others are written, but in writing it this way, it felt very much like a detached investigative approach, more reporting facts than engaging in them, reflective of Parlabane’s job as a reported. I really liked the switch back and forth between the two perspectives and found it made the story flow quite well, holding back key facts in Diana’s memories until just the right time.
The characterisations in the book are excellent and I had a clear picture of each and everyone of the character. There was just enough of Jack’s back story to fill in the blanks about his character without spoiling any of the previous novels, and to make me want to go back and read more. I also quickly became invested in Diana and Peter, Peter being a most endearing character. I was less certain about Lucy, and it was clear there was some hidden story about their estrangement from their father, but I wasn’t quite expecting that.
Brilliantly told, and with nothing quite as it may seem, if I had one small criticism of this book it would be that sometimes it felt that some of Diana’s descriptive passages were a little too detailed and they felt a little long. It made it a slower read for me, paced over a number of days, the kind of book I dipped into between other reads rather than raced through at a frantic pace. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, because I did and the change of pace is not always a bad thing. I can certainly see why it has won awards and garnered such praise as it is an extremely well written, highly descriptive book.
So ‘Black Widow’ gets a slightly twisted, gender-bias challenging, eyebrow lifting 4.5 stars from me
I received a review copy of ‘Black Widow’ from NetGalley and Publishers Grove Atlantic.
‘Black Widow’ is available to purchase now from the following links.
You can follow Chris Brookmyre on twitter: @cbrookmyre