One of the most powerful weapons in the armoury of the crime fiction writer is the reader's desire to see a mystery solved, to find out "whodunit". It takes a brave author to discard this weapon by uncloaking the identity of the murderer within the first few pages. And it takes a particularly accomplished one to pull this off in a way that still leaves the reader gripped by the compulsion to find out "how" and "why".
Chris Brookmyre achieves this masterfully in his superb new novel "Black Widow". Diana Jager is a renowned and highly skilled surgeon who finds herself working in Inverness after losing her job in England following her identification as the author of a highly controversial blog about sexism in medicine. She feels life is passing her by, but then she meets Peter, who offers her the second chance in life she thought would never come. The book compellingly charts the course of a whirlwind romance that leads within six months to their wedding. And then we follow the steady disintegration of their marriage within six more months, concluding in the most final way possible with Peter's death in a road accident. But was it an accident? Peter's sister Lucy thinks not, and asks disgraced journalist Jack Parlaban to investigate. Jack senses the possibility of a story that might resurrect his career, and heads north up the A9 in pursuit of it.
We follow the rise and fall of Peter and Diana's relationship through Diana's first person recollections of it, interspersed with Jack Parlaban's account of his investigation, and the story of woman PC Ali Kazmi who, with her colleague, was the first on the scene of Peter's accident and had the job of telling Diana Jager about it the following morning. The major mystery that might otherwise drive you onward seems resolved from the start, but there are plenty of other conundrums that keep the reader perplexed, and turning the page. Why was Peter so secretive about the IT project his company was working on? Why was he so guarded about his past? Why was his relationship with his wealthy parents in Perthshire so abysmal? And what bearing did all these things really have on the failure of his marriage to Diana? Chris Brookmyre keeps the reader guessing right to the very end, resulting in a compelling and thoroughly enjoyable book in which nothing is what it appears to be.