PANDAEMONIUM - Christopher Brookmyre
Fans of Christopher Brookmyre's dark, black-comedic writing are probably going to do what I did when this book arrived. A bit of dignified happy dancing and a general clearing of the activity calendar to sit down for a jolly good read and, along the way, a lot of very undignified laughing. A lot of readers new to this writer may be stepping away from the book (and this review) in droves. But really - don't. To steal a famous phrase - do yourself a favour (perhaps this needs to come with a strong language alert).
Sure Christopher Brookmyre writes gory, savage, lunatic satire with little regard for "social sensibilities" or "political correctness". But within the lunacy of a bunch of school kids, pretty well intent on the things that teenagers have always been intent on - the booze, sex, drugs and partying bit of the recovery retreat; there is some fantastic sense and sensibility in the way that Brookmyre gives us a storyline, a morality play in many many ways and a set of characters to really get involved in.
It goes without saying that any military base, deep in the highlands of Scotland, that appears to have opened the very Gates to Hell, releasing horned creatures with long tails, is probably going to stuff it up. Calling in Cardinal Tullian of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith aka The Inquisition, allowing him to torture and torment the demons, and then announcing the shutdown of the place would obviously lead to a spot of sabotage, and the release of the demons of Hell. Which has to happen about the same time as a bunch of school children arrive in a slightly damaged bus at a resort very nearby. Of course the bus is damaged, a simple bus trip full of kids isn't going to be a method of transporting people from A to B in Brookmyre's hands - it's got to get a bit pear-shaped just to make sure that the group's chaperones arrive at the resort just that little bit frazzled to start off with.
And lunacy, gore, elaborate death scenes, and a hefty does of utter and total chaos needless to say happens. But in all this build-up, and within the night where all hell breaks lose, Brookmyre does what he does so well. Stereotypes are tipped on their heads, expectations turned inside out, people - kids; adults; bullies; goths; priests and the preachy; bitches and the sweet; the chaste and the profligate all step up to the mark, and you find yourself caring about each and everyone of them. You also find that what you see is not always what you get, and sometimes people are more than the sum of their external persona, and sometimes they're not. The portrayal of teenagers in this book is particularly delightful - and particularly reminiscent, and something I wish I'd read when I was that age and wondering why I was the only one in the world that thought / looked / behaved / stuck out like I did.
Undoubtedly extremely violent, gory and confrontational, (it's fiction for goodness sake, personally I'm not convinced that I need to worry I could be torn limb from limb by the demons of Hell in the middle of the Scottish Highlands), PANDAEMONIUM is considerably more than it's external persona. Not just a bit of a dig at a bunch of societal attitudes, Brookmyre digs a hole through to the depths of hell and buries a heap of garbage in it, and he does it delivering something that will make you snort with laughter, hold your breath with anticipation, and finish with great regret.
The senior pupils of St Peter's High School are on retreat at a secluded outdoor activity centre, coming to terms with the murder of a fellow pupil through the means you would expect: counselling, contemplation, candid discussion and even prayer - not to mention booze, drugs, clandestine liaisons and as much partying as they can get away with.
Not so far away, the commanders of a top-secret military experiment, long-since spiralled out of control, fear they may have literally unleashed the forces of Hell.