Published: 20/01/2016 14:45 - Updated: 20/01/2016 17:21

Chris Brookmyre should find Inverness launch location a familiar one

Chris Brookmyre
Chris Brookmyre

THERE could hardly be a more apt location than The Ironworks for award-winning author Chris Brookmyre to launch his latest novel in Inverness.

The city music venue plays a small, but significant part in his 19th novel Black Widow.

It is the location for the first date of the couple whose ill-fated marriage is at the centre of the book, and that is no plot spoiler – the novel begins with surgeon and on-line campaigner Diana Jager on trial for the murder of her husband Peter.

Despite the venue’s early appearance in Black Widow, the Glasgow-born author admitted than next Wednesday’s launch event will be the first time he has actually gone into The Ironworks.

However, Brookmyre is very familiar with Inverness, having lived in the Highland Capital in the 1990s.

He has previously used Highland settings in some of his other books, including an oil rig converted into an up-market holiday resort in the Moray Firth, but Inverness struck him as a suitable location for his story of what seems to be an idyllic marriage and the media circus that follows its tragic end.

"Normally the story suggests a location rather than me decide I’d like to write about a particular location," Brookmyre explained.

"It’s as I start to picture things that I see where it has to be, and sometimes where I see it isn’t where I’d initially envisaged. With something like Black Widow, when I first thought it up I was probably thinking Glasgow/Edinburgh, but then I went back and thought this should definitely be somewhere away from the usual locations.

"It’s plausible that this character (Diana) would seek employment somewhere physically and in other respects far from the spotlight. I also thought – not that there is any rolling hills romantic backdrop to it really – but it is about what is on the surface a fairy tale romance that goes horribly wrong.

"It struck me that there is a romantic perception of the Highlands in terms of landscape and it would be more appropriate to set a book that’s really about a marriage in the Highlands rather than Glasgow or Edinburgh."

The seemingly peaceful Highlands also provided him with a suitable spot for sudden death,

"The book starts with this mystery about a car going into a river and I did picture somewhere out near Inverness that I’d driven past, only because I was thinking about a stretch of river that looked sufficiently deep – but I have no idea if it is actually as deep as it appeared," Brookmyre added.

Setting a book in a real life location does bring its challenges, Brookmyre acknowledge, especially with local readers on the alert for errors or critical comments,

"I’m always aware that if I’m setting a book somewhere that’s not as populous, the Venn diagram changes in terms of the number of people who will read the book and know you have got something wrong," he said.

"But with smaller cities and towns, people will be far more sharp eyed about how you have depicted it, so you have got to be as vague as possible about certain things."

Black Widow does have major change to the local landscape that Highland readers will be quick to spot, the creation of new, but familiar sounding, Highland Capital hospital, Inverness Royal Infirmary.

It was a necessary invention for the author, whose anaesthetist wife Marisa did work at a real life Inverness hospital.

"I knew from the off it was going to be unflattering," he said of his depiction of the IRI where Dr Jager, otherwise known as controversial blogger Scalpelgirl, works.

"Ironically enough, considering it has lots to do with surgeons throwing tantrums, Marisa said it was the one place she worked where she never saw any of that."

Although the book features Brookmyre regular Jack Parlabane, the investigative reporter who reappeared in last year’s Dead Girl Walking after an eight year absence, Black Widow focuses as much on Diana Jager, who her creator admits is likely to divide readers.

"The most interesting stuff is always in the shades of grey," he said.

"She was a compelling and a demanding character to write. I wanted the reader to be changing their mind about her all the way through."

Dr Jager may be more polarising than some other Brookmyre characters, but she follows a number of strong female characters who have featured in his novels from actress turned private eye Jasmine Sharp to grandmother and superspy Jane Bell, something Brookmyre takes pride in.

"For all that I have had this perception that I was laddish, once upon a time because of the scatological humour and the violence, I never considered myself as that," he said.

"I would find it very hard these days to write from an entirely male perspective and the last three novels, including the one I’m finishing now, have been split down the middle between male and female perspectives."

Beyond that current novel, which will again feature Jack Parlabane, Brookmyre will turn his attention to a science-fiction novel, having previously dabbled in the genre with horror crossover Pandaemonium and 2013’s Bedlam, which shares its themes and title with the video game he developed.

However, fans of his darkly humorous crime fiction need not fear that he is giving up on them,

"I wanted to write something that, even though it’s technically science-fiction, would be appealing to crime readers as well," he explained.

"I can’t see myself doing two back to back science-fiction novels, so I will be turning my thoughts back to crime, but I do want to write a historical novel. I seem to be branching out into multiple genres1"

• Black Widow by Chris Brookmyre is published by Little Brown.

Chris Brookmyre will be talking about the book and signing copies at The Ironworks, Academy Street, Inverness, at 7pm on Wednesday Janutary 20.

Brookmyre is one of three leading Scottish crime writers appearing in Inverness over the next week in events organised by the Inverness branch of Waterstones, beginning with Aberdeen author Stuart MacBride in the Eastgate centre store on Friday 15, and continuing with Glasgow born Peter May on  Tuesday 19, also at The Ironworks.

For further information on all three events, which all begin at 7pm, and to book tickets, telephone Waterstones Inverness on 01463 233500.

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