Going to high school reunion is always fraught with dangers. Who knows how well you’re going to stack up against your former classmates: will you have less hair, is your partner less attractive then theirs, or, worst of all, are they making more money than you? For the class of ’85 from St Michael’s Auchenlea their fifteenth reunion will make all others pale in comparison.
In Christopher Brookmyre’s One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night the relentless horror of a high school reunion could only be augmented by the inclusion of uninvited guests in the form of heavily armed incompetent mercenaries. Bad enough that one has to worry about expanding waistlines, but to also have to worry about getting shot would be enough to make everyone reconsider attending a twentieth reunion even if they survive this one.
From the opening chapter’s introduction to the would-be terrorist/mercenaries through to the introduction to the variety of protagonists, it’s obvious that we are in for the party of the century. (It being only Aug. 2000 there’s not much competition yet) Even without the inclusion of masked bandits the evening had promised to be different. How many high school reunions take place on an oilrig converted into a tourist resort parked in the middle of the river Firth?
Of course that’s not the hotel’s final destination. It’s to be towed down to off the coast of Africa. There it will sit, a little piece of England for those who don’t want their vacation upset by the inclusion of foreigners. The genius behind this venture, in a bid to show his former classmates how great he’s become, also organized this little get together.
You see Gavin Hutchinson was a complete non-entity at school; Dilithium Davie never beat the crap out of him even though he had “done” everyone else in their year, and at sixteen entered the prison system for chucking a classmate out of a third story window. This was Gavin’s chance to show all those wankers, including the now reformed and famous Davie and the notorious comic Matt Black, how much more of a success he was than any of them could ever dream.
What ever it is they say about mice, men and plans seems to be the order of the day for all parties involved in the story. From the opening chapter where the bad guys succeed in reducing their numbers by four through acts of random stupid violence, including firing a rocket launcher backwards into an unintentional victim whose body parts are literally scattered to the four winds; Gavin’s plan for being the star of the show going askew because absolutely no one remembers him; retired police inspector Hector McGregor’s peaceful first day off the job being rudely interrupted when he is cold conked by one of the aforementioned flying body parts, specifically a severed arm punching him in the head; right up to the point where the gatecrashers show up for the party bringing party favours in the shape of automatic weapons, rocket launchers and a very powerful bomb designed to blow the place to pieces. (This last bit of information is a surprise for everyone, especially the mercenaries who think they are robbing a group of investment bankers)
True to the best Hollywood tradition of hostage taking incidences, there are characters that manage to avoid the general round up when the gunmen appear. Matt Black and Gavin’s soon to be ex wife had gone off for a moonlight stroll, reformed berserker David Murdoch is locked in his hotel room still trying to figure out what the hell he is doing here, Gavin himself who had left to search for his current paramour, Catherine, who is trying to convince Davie to come to the party and the very capable Mr. Vale, head of a private security firm who just happens to be on site ironing out the bugs in the surveillance system.
When the bad guys discover that Gavin and a few others are missing, their leader goes out for a breath of air (which turns out to mean killing his own sentry, destroying their boats, arming the bomb and leaving the oilrig as fast as possible) leaving his second to organize the search parties. Very reasonably figuring he has nothing to fear from the hostages, he heads up one party, sends three other members of his stalwart gang off to another part of the resort and leaves three others behind.
What he doesn’t count on is one of his members having a crisis of conscience. killing his fellow guards and leading the hostages to safety. He also doesn’t factor in that someone who has served as much time as Davie has learned a thing or two along the way. While Catherine leads Davie and Gavin to a laundry chute to whisk them away from the gunmen, one of their number is being electrocuted by the strategic use of wires and the conductive nature of a door knob.
Eventually all hostages manage to converge, with the added reinforcement of the earlier mentioned retired police inspector (whose trip to the oil rig included trying to wave down a ride with the severed arm, a run in with a sheep, and a police roadblock), and the story reaches its inevitable happy ending. As is usual with Brookmyre’s work the bald plot outline is deceptive.
What separates his stories from the usual are his characters, his manipulation of the English language and his twisted humour. His major players, even the ones we are not supposed to like, are developed with depth, compassion and integrity. The bad guys speak for themselves, and seem to be entirely reasonable, and according to them justified in their actions.
Brookmyre allows everybody to speak for themselves, not just seen through the eyes of one character. One moment we are in the head of Matt Black as he is dissecting his life and career, the next we are sitting on the shoulder of the terrorist who is second in command as he watches all of his carefully laid plans disintegrate.
His decision to start shooting hostages seems completely logical as he rationalizes it for us. We feel his genuine shock that they are not where they were supposed to be and his sense of betrayal when he discovers the means of their escape.
We hear each side of the argument about why Simone and Gavin’s marriage is a disaster. Each presents their case, to us the jury, and Brookmyre leaves it to us to make a decision. Of course he does nudge us in the right direction as Gavin justifies his philandering based on the old “she doesn’t understand” me defense. Since Gavin spends most of the party dismissing his old classmates as pathetic, because they would rather spend time with each other than worshipping at his feet, we tend to feel even less sympathy towards him than we do the terrorists.
Christopher Brookmyre’s fans, myself included, have always appreciated the way in which he manipulates the English language to get maximum effect for its ability to generate humour. Whether his inventive use of profanity, his vivid descriptive passages or his ability to carry the most illogical scenario to a logical conclusion, at some point or another a reader’s cognitive powers will be sorely tested by an inability to breath due to laughter.
One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night is no exception to that rule. From the chain of events that sees former Inspector MacGregor being interrogated by the local police (something to do with waving down motorists with a body part, ploughing a stolen Renault into a prize sheep and sending said sheep through the windscreen of an oncoming police cruiser causing a pile up) to his explanation of how the word plastic gains a level of notoriety: “Explosive was the only word in the English language not witheringly diminished when you preceded it with the word plastic.”
This book is a pleasure to read on a variety of levels, as a take off on all the Hollywood hostage movies, a straight out action story and the insights into reasons we all find nostalgia so enticing. If you have an appreciation for the bizarre, and also enjoy a well written intelligent story with humour and adventure, than pick up a copy of One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night. You won’t be disappointed.