Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

DS Gillespie suspects they are not dealing with the sharpest pencils in the box when she's called to the discovery of two partially disfigured, roughly hidden bodies in the forest. The reputation of the killers is not enhanced greatly when they leave the receipts for all the gear they bought for disposing of the bodies behind, but the whole thing moves further into the surreal for Gillespie when she can identify both the victims as locals and people she knows all too well from her own school days.

A TALE ETCHED moves between school days in the 1970's and the current events and investigation as more and more of Gillespie's old school pals are pulled in. The switching of perspective between the two timeframes slowly reveals the development of the core characters from who they became at school, to what they are in their adult lives.

In typical Brookmyre fashion this is at times absolutely hilarious and at times very painful. These stories bring back so many of the trials and tribulations of childhood - the desperate need to "fit in", the bullying, the cliques, the rises and falls from grace, sadistic teachers, ineffectual teachers, family dysfunction, deeply felt-friendship and always remembered embarrassments.

In the end, there is a mystery about who killed these two victims and why - the why having more twists and turns that are revealed as more and more of the growing years of the central characters are revealed.

Whilst it's typical of Brookmyre to mix utter side splitting hilarity with a serious message and undertone, there's something in A TALE ETCHED IN BLOOD AND HARD BLACK PENCIL that made it compelling. Maybe you needed to go to a primary school for it to grab you, but boy did this grab. 

Year of Publication

We could tell you about the bodies. We could tell you their names, where they were found, the state they were in. We could tell you about the suspects too, the evidence, the investigators; join a few dots, even throw you a motive. But what would be the point? You’re going to make your own assumptions anyway. After all, you know these people, don’t you? You went to school with them. We all did. Granted, that was twenty years ago, but how much does anybody really change? Exactly. So if you really knew them then, you’ll already have all the answers. If you really knew them then…

Put on your uniform and line up in an orderly fashion for the funniest and most accurate trip back to the classroom you are likely to read, as well as a murder mystery like nothing that has gone before it. Forget the forensics: only once you’ve been through school with this painfully believable cast of characters will you be equipped to work out what really happened decades later. Even then, you’ll probably guess wrong and be made to stand in the corner. 

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