Settling into a new country is fun, but instead of banging on about that here’s the first of the reviews I promised earlier in the month: Michael Robotham’s Bombproof.
Several months ago, before the never-ending move to Jakarta began, I settled on a book to read on the plane from Brisbane to Jakarta, via Kuala Lumpur. That book was Bombproof, by Michael Robotham. The selection process was simple, I was at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival listening to him and Val McDermid talk about crime, their experiences in journalism, being threatened by the IRA and writing Ginger Spice’s biography (Robotham) and how “I just make this shit up” and journalists should not ask fiction writers for comments on real cases (McDermid).
Robotham did a great job selling Shatter as the book that spooks readers most, and that had run out at Readings’ festival bookstore. The blurb of Bombproof got me instantly. And here’s where I insert my anecdote about how as I got an autograph he told me that all his male mates reckon this is the best of his books. (Perhaps they hadn’t read the Ginger Spice biog.) And he signed it with a note to “enjoy” so I figured I would, on the plane. And it’s sort of about terrorism, so where beor the sake of it.
Here are ten things I don’t hate about Bombproof.
1. It’s a boys’ book. This is not to say women cannot and would not enjoy the misadventures, misfortunes and misery of Sami MacBeth as he goes through a day or so of hell. But the unlucky protagonist (perhaps guilty of saying his name out loud in a theatre without running around it three times and spitting to rid himself of the curse) is released from prison for a burglary he did not commit, finds his sister has been turned into a crack whore and held at ransom so he must now begin a life of crime, and accidentally turns himself into a terrorist. Then the body count rises.
2. You don’t have to have enjoyed Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels to like this book, but it helps. Robotham described it to me, in our exclusive one on one conversation, as a bit like Lock, Stock. Yes and no. Yes there are a group of interesting and shady characters who coincide around certain events, yes the action is relentless, but I’m not totally convinced Guy Ritchie is the right person to direct the film. (Willing to be proven wrong.)
3. You don’t have to know about the July 7 tube bombings to get caught up in this book, but it helps. The “opening” scene (which is something of a flash forward) brings back those vivid images of the bombings, and adds a depth and reality to the book. Thrillers of this sort are usually unrealistic, hard to believe, and full of stuff you don’t want to happen in real life. That’s why we go along for the ride with such fiction, to take us to places we wouldn’t otherwise go and imagine circumstances that are extreme. But given that much of what happens is similar to events we have seen on television, it becomes easier to accept and get caught up in. Here we have a miscarriage of justice, a siege, a bombing, dodgy police, and more dealings that we can relate to from the news. We don’t usually see them all strung together, and that’s the fun.
4. There’s a hot chick who has gives Sami great sex because she gets turned on by bad boys. (Nuff said.)
5. We get to laugh at John Denver not having a diamond day when he crashed into Monterey Bay – and it’s in the first paragraph. (Too soon?) As opening lines go, it’s not quite “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen” but it made me chuckle.
6. Mostly, the bad people die and the good people live. Occasionally innocent people die, but we have heard/been told/infer that they’re a bit sleazy, or crude, or are criminals, or out of their minds on drugs and we don’t feel sorry for them.
7. It’s written in the third person. That is part of why I chose this above Robotham’s other, psychological thrillers, as I prefer third person to first person. Not always, and not in every instance. (Robotham’s opening to Bleed For Me kinda creeped me out, although he assured me the rest is easier to digest, so there’s an example of great first person writing. Plus I only just got around to reading Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity and got sucked along for the ride.) The third person also allows for different strands of narrative and characters to play out separately, which Robotham puts to good use.
8. The characters serve the plot, not the other way around. There is a time and a place for exploring complex characters, back story, history, motivations and how these characters represent aspects of humanity and society at any given point in time. This is not it. Stuff blows up, people die, police are good and bad, criminals are good and bad, and we get enough information about Sami to know how he got involved in his mess, how he feels, and relate to how he acts. An insight into the human condition? No. Damn good fun? I thought so.
9. The women aren’t stupid. There are not many in here, it has to be said, but they all have brains and abilities. Apart from the descriptions of Sami’s sister as a crack whore (not voluntarily, it must be stressed, she’s a victim of crime) and perhaps a slight sluttish tinge to the hot chick who helps Sami in the trouser department there’s nothing for feminists to complain about here. Well, not that I can see. They’ll probably find something. The female characters have brains, independence and are calm in a crisis, which is more than can be said for some of the male characters. It’s still a boys’ book, but see point one.
10. It can be read quickly. That does not mean it cannot be enjoyed a page at a time every night before falling asleep (as I am doing with Sherlock Holmes at the moment) but the pace of Bombproof is snappy and I tore through it with delight.
And there was one major problem I had with the book.
1. It can be read quickly. I had planned to read Bombproof between Brisbane and Jakarta, and during the stopover in Kuala Lumpur. (Yes, I know it’s further away, the tickets were cheaper.) I’d finished it a good half-hour before landing in the Malaysian airport. So, having saved it for the flight, Bombproof came up a few hours short. Fortunately, I had other reading options.
In summary, Bombproof is a good, fun, no-nonsense thriller that neither taxes your brain nor treats you like an idiot. Four stars.