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The Sacred Art of Stealing

Christopher Brookmyre

Little, Brown / Time Warner

UK Hardcover First

ISBN 0-316-85951-6

Publication Date: 10-03-2002

410 Pages; £16.99

Date Reviewed: 11-21-02  

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002




02-11-02, 03-07-02, 03-25-02, 03-28-02, 12-06-02, 01-07-03, 04-30-03

While Christopher Brookmyre's latest novel is titled 'The Sacred Art of Stealing', and with good reason, the opening passage -- and many to follow -- demonstrate that Brookmyre himself is a master of the profane art of ranting. Any readers left standing after the prose-as-a-machine-gun volley that begins the book are in for a treat. In his seventh novel, Brookmyre brings back Angelique De Xavia, the heroine of 'A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away' and presents her with a delicious romantic and criminal conundrum: What do you do when you're the cop and you fall for the robber? Remembering, of course, that in Brookmyre's skewed universe, to quote the character, "Just because I'm a bank robber doesn't mean that I'm the bad guy."

The plot is a crackerjack magic box that unfolds with the precision of a mega-budget action thriller. Once the opening salvoes are fired, Brookmyre lays out a robbery-with-hostages situation that is both hilarious, touching and filled with electric-wire tension. And rants. Oh yes, the rants. With Brookmyre, most of the fun is in getting there. If the first paragraph doesn't have you calling up your friends to read it into their voicemail, then you can go directly to Angelique, who will deliver her take on romance shortly. Because, between all the misdirection, the magic, the clever-as-clever-one-could-possibly-hope-it-to-be staging of the robberies, the reversals and the police poltroons that De Xavia is forced to work with, 'The Sacred Art of Stealing' is a romance through and through.

As a romance, it's forced to live or die based on the attraction of the readers to the characters, not the attraction of the characters to one another. It's a romance; that's a given. But Brookmyre succeeds by not making his characters easily likable. They're simply realistic people who have been pushed beyond all bounds and found themselves in a room pointing guns at one another. They have their reasons for doing so, good and bad. The reader will buy them, their predicament and even the souped up solution because Brookmyre makes the whole thing go down so damn easy. His confidence in the characters carries them together through the sophisticated mix of surrealist art and hi-tech crime hi-jinks he has in store. It's a natural partnership.

Brookmyre doesn't pull his punches, which in the end makes his work much, much stronger. In the interim, however, some readers may find themselves put off by his in-your-face ranting. If it weren't so damn well written, so damn witty, there'd be a problem, because Brookmyre pushes it to the limit, then finds himself looking over his shoulder at the limit. He's a remarkably skilled writer, however, and he saves himself from his turn-it-to-11 inclinations by that old standby of the writer, great writing. Just when you think you're hearing the writer himself speak, you'll find he's heavily in character, and in a character who is so enjoyably over-the-top that the reader will welcome every chance to hear him have a go.

Brookmyre also devotes a fair amount of the narrative to musings on sports, in this case the Rangers, a long-losing but loved local football club. Angelique's fascination with them rounds out her character in unexpected ways, and Brookmyre does an admirable job of unearthing the universal feel of the low-rated losing sports team. American readers who still can't spell the word soccer without a spell-checker may find themselves a bit nostalgic for football as they know it. Don't worry, you can apply Brookmyre's sports rants with only a few easy translations.

'The Sacred Art of Stealing' is a fascinating concoction, part magic-trick, all misdirection, part romance, part page-turner. Brookmyre constantly and effectively pulls the rug out from under the characters and the reader, casting every statement into doubt, resolving those doubts then replacing them with new ones. In the interim, readers will laugh out loud often enough to be embarrassed if they're riding on public transportation. Whether you're laughing because you care -- or you care because you know you'll laugh -- is immaterial. Great writing trumps all obstacles. Oh, and have no doubt -- 'The Sacred Art of Stealing' has a lovely little jab at the Christian right, the kind of masterful comeuppance that Brookmyre readers have learned to expect. And you'll remember I told you so. Oh yes.