Source: Review copy
Publication: 4 March 2021 from Little, Brown
Millie Spark can kill anyone.
A special effects make-up artist, her talent is to create realistic scenes of bloody violence.
Then, one day, she wakes to find her lover dead in her bed.
Twenty-five years later, her sentence for murder served, Millicent is ready to give up on her broken life – until she meets troubled film student and reluctant petty thief Jerry.
Together, they begin to discover that all was not what it seemed on that fateful night . . . and someone doesn’t want them to find out why.
This is a terrific read. An excellent fast-paced crime novel with lots of personality, oodles of humour and some stand out, sheer brilliance. Part crime caper, part serious murder mystery, this book left me smiling at the most unlikely detective pairing this side of Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu.
Millie Sparks is 72 and depressed. She’s spent the last 25 years in prison for the murder of her lover Markus – a murder she doesn’t remember committing. Now she’s on parole and living on the charity and company of Vivian and Carla, two old friends in Glasgow. She’s had enough and is ready to take her farewells but she hasn’t reckoned on meeting Jerome.
Jerome or Jerry as he prefers to be known, is a young man whose troubled past should be behind him, but he can’t seem to shake it off. He’s taking a film course at university but he feels a bit unsettled. He doesn’t really fit in, even though he knows his subject very well, and he’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders leading to occasional rebellion and bouts of poor behaviour.
Millie and Jerry share one thing in common. Millie used to be a special effects make-up artist working on horror films and Jerry’s specialist film subject is horror movies, a passion fuelled by his grandmother’s video business. When Jerry finds lodgings with Vivien and Carla, he’s happy enough to be in decent digs at a low rent and the company of old women is fine for him, a boy brought up by his grandmother.
But when the household go out for a ‘welcome and getting to know you’ meal one evening at a local hotel, Millie wanders off intending not to return. Looking for her, Jerry finds staring at a photograph on the walls of the hotel. Realising that this photograph contains the possibility of answers to what happened to her that night 25 years ago, Millie becomes animated and a determination to find the truth flares up in her.
Told in a dual timeline, the present and flashbacks to 25 years ago we learn of the film that Millie was working on; a film that Jerry is also a bit obsessed with. Mancipium was a horror film that never made it to release, so beset by problems that it acquired a legend all of its own. It is said that evil lurked in the film and many who worked on Mancipium met a grisly end and Millie, of course, knows only too well that at least one person died.
Now though, Jerry and Millie find themselves in certain danger and have to get out of the country to escape and so that they can begin to track down those who might be able to offer some answers as to what happened to Millie and Markus all those years ago.
These two characters are genius. They spark off each other and their dialogue is sparkling, funny and peppered with film references. Brookmyre’s trademark black humour gets free range here and it is glorious.
Milie and Jerry travel through Europe in a flash car mingling with the rich and famous; film stars, artists and politicians as well as heavy metal movie sets and horror sets that owe more to sleaze than shock. Pursued by killers, they have to stay one step ahead if they are to remain alive long enough to solve the case. As they work together, they both realise that they have reasons to keep on living.
Verdict: The Cut is a delicious read, full of wit and dry observation, with great, honestly drawn characters you can’t help but like. The writing is crisp and sharp and Brookmyre isn’t afraid to skewer his targets. I really laughed out loud as much as I was drawn into the crime elements of this sometimes dark and twisted rollercoaster of a redemptive crime story. This is peak Brookmyre and I loved it.
Chris Brookmyre was a journalist before becoming a full-time novelist with the publication of his award-winning debut Quite Ugly One Morning, which established him as one of Britain’s leading crime novelists. His 2016 novel Black Widow won both the McIlvanney Prize and the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award. Brookmyre’s novels novels have sold more than two million copies in the UK alone.