Ruby Mortimer-Smyth has what should be the perfect life. Married to man who has the perfect career mapped out, she has had the best upbringing money can buy. She is trained in etiquette, understands the correct way to act in all social situations and yet she never quite feels enough. Brought up in competition with her step-sister Claire, Ruby is on the verge of getting the one thing that Claire always wanted but never managed to achieve. To live in Paris.
Until it all goes wrong. Her husband, Edward, did such a good job of his last campaign that rather than transfer him to the lucrative new campaign in Paris, his company decide he must be the one to try and win a lucrative new pet supplies deal. In Kansas.
With her sister’s laughter ringing in her ears, Ruby reluctantly moves to Kansas with Edward. Nothing is as she was used to and the relative isolation she finds herself in starts to send her crazy. So crazy that she starts to make some questionable lifestyle choices and associating with the kind of friends her step-mother would be appalled by. It also steers her right into a head on collision with Sheriff Hank Gephart.
Hank is a long-standing Sheriff. He knows people, can spot the good from the bad and he knows from the moment that they meet that Ruby is not the polished and poised English rose she purports to be. She’s reckless and impulsive and he knows she’s heading for big trouble. As time goes on, and their paths cross again and again Hank becomes fascinated by Ruby and the feeling is not entirely unreciprocated. But Ruby is also taken by Edward’s boss, a handsome Native American by the name of Payat.
As the new millennium approaches, the madness and paranoia about an impending Armageddon caused by Y2K and the ‘millennium bug’ begins to escalate. But Ruby has bigger things to worry about.
After escaping a hostage situation, Ruby disappears and Hank is found shot. The last words on his lips before he passed out were Ruby’s name but why? Just what happened to the prim and proper young woman who left for Kansas and just why would she have shot the man who may well be her Mr Right?
Okay. For the sake of full disclosure, I will start this review by being completely transparent and honest. I received a copy of ‘Brake Failure’ from the author, Alison Brodie.
And I’m very glad I did.
This book is really bloody funny.
There. Now that’s out of the way, I can tell you why. From the beginning Alison Brodie has set up both an element of intrigue and also the comedic personality of our heroine, Ruby.
At the very start of the novel we discover Hank, already shot, outside of a care home in a very remote location. The old folk are gathered around but nobody knows where he came from and how he got there. The only thing they get from him is Ruby’s name. But who the heck is Ruby? When we meet Ruby, some weeks before the shooting, you cannot begin to imagine how somebody whose sole meaning in life is cataloguing files for a University and engaging in pointless one-upmanship with her step-sister Claire could possibly be involved in a shooting.
What follows is a wonderfully written and highly humorous look at the slow breakdown of Ruby’s almost brain washed personality and the emergence of the devil may care, rebelious young woman that she had kept buried for years. Ruby is a brilliant character, neurotic and uptight who starts to embrace her really relaxed surroundings and the carefree lifestyle that comes with it. No longer under her mother’s control and with a marriage which seems to be collapsing barely weeks after it started, it is no wonder Ruby snaps. And it’s hilarious. She still retains her Britishness, the element of sarcasm which is just about hidden from her neighbours, but when she lets loose, she really lets loose. She becomes obsessed with the idea of Payat, of becoming some kind of Native American princess living in a wigwam, driven by the images of native life she had seen in the old westerns she had been watching. I mean seriously… I really liked her.
As for Hank. Well he’s a bit uptight himself. Left to bring up his younger siblings he’s never been serious about love. Until he meets Ruby. There is something in her he likes. And there’s something in Hank I liked too. He was a little cocksure at times but then he had been mislead by Ruby, so the misunderstandings between the two were mainly her fault. But in spite of him seeming like a killjoy every time they met, he really did have her best interests at heart. I found myself hoping that he and Ruby would work it out, but with her fixated on Payat and seeming to have shot him, you kind of wonder how this can be possible.
The story moves back and forward between the night of Hank’s shooting and the ongoing search for the elusive Ruby, and the sixteen weeks leading up to the fateful night. As we move through the story we are witness to the change in Ruby but our journey is tempered by the current day, all of the conflicting information the Police Chief is gathering about her. From what he is hearing she may well have deliberately shot Hank. But just what is truth and what is fiction?
There are so many laugh out loud moments in this book and I found myself chuckling away more often that not. From all the misunderstandings with Hank to the entries from Ruby’s journal which become less and less logical and coherent as time passes, Alison Brodie has pitched this just right. She has perfectly captured the character of Kansas and the people who live there too, the kind of people whose entire New Year resolutions revolved around losing a few pounds and praying more. By the end of the book Ruby is a far cry from the hypochondriac, tee-total and uptight woman we first met. And boy. That poem…
A very funny and millennium bug-tastic 4 stars.
‘Brake Failure‘ is available now from the following links.