“You’ll learn how to do some very il­le­gal things as well as be­ing en­ter­tained”

When Jack Par­la­bane be­gan his mayhem-filled jour­nal­ism ca­reer more than 20 years ago in Christo­pher Brook­myre’s de­but novel Quite Ugly One Morn­ing, he seemed to be made of Te­flon, bound­ing cheer­fully from one dis­as­ter to an­other with no emo­tional ill-ef­fects.

But in the most re­cent nov­els, the char­ac­ter has gained more depth. Mid­dle-aged and di­vorced, his dis­dain for the niceties of the law when in pur­suit of a juicy story has made him per­sona non grata in the new world of jour­nal­ism postLeve­son. As Brook­myre puts it, in typ­i­cally salty fash­ion, “Par­la­bane knows what it is to have ev­ery­one be­lieve you’re the worst of the worst, a bot­tom­feed­ing sleaze­bag low enough to rim a rattlesnake.” And hav­ing tasted fail­ure, Jack has be­come more re­flec­tive, less likely to charge blindly into trou­ble. In­stead, trou­ble now has to come to him.

Di­nosaur he may be but Jack’s tal­ent for sniff­ing out scoops is still sec­ond to none, and Want You Gone, the eighth Par­la­bane novel in the series, be­gins with him luck­ing out for once when he’s head­hunted by the crowd­funded sexy-but-se­ri­ous news site Broad­wave. He soon finds him­self with a cushy new job and a comely young boss with a thing for older men.

Of course, fate is wait­ing round the cor­ner with a sand­bag and a nasty grin. Brook­myre fans will know that Jack has done some highly crim­i­nal things over the years in the pur­suit of truth and jus­tice with the help of a bril­liant com­puter hacker known to him only as “Buz­zkill.” Now Buz­zkill is in need of pro­tec­tion from some dan­ger­ous en­e­mies, and threat­ens to ex­pose Jack’s back cat­a­logue of dodgy ac­tiv­i­ties un­less he does ex­actly what he’s told — which in­volves putting his life and ca­reer on the line.

Brook­myre knows his way around hard­ware, whether it be weapons or com­put­ers, and his au­thor­i­ta­tive de­pic­tion of the tech­ni­cal in­tri­ca­cies of com­puter hack­ing is by turns fas­ci­nat­ing and be­wil­der­ing: this is a man who knows what he’s talk­ing about even if his read­ers don’t. It is cu­ri­ously com­fort­ing, how­ever, to dis­cover that suc­cess­ful hack­ers need to be mas­ters of good old­fash­ioned one-on-one conartistry as well as tech­ni­cal know-how to suc­ceed.

Read­ers will learn a lot about how to do some very il­le­gal things from this novel, as well as be­ing ex­cited and en­ter­tained: Brook­myre is as good as he ever was at punc­tur­ing pom­pos­ity and hypocrisy. And be­hind the jokes and thrills, there are glimpses of real heart.

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