Quite Ugly One Morning is the book that made Christopher Brookmyre a star in his native Britain, establishing his distinctive, scabrously humorous style and breakneck, hell-for-leather narrative pacing. The novel that won the inaugural First Blood Award for the best debut crime novel in the United Kingdom is now available in America for the first time, and comic crime writing on this side of the Atlantic may never be the same. Quite Ugly One Morning introduces Brookmyre's signature protagonist, the hard-partying, wisecracking investigative journalist Jack Parlabane, who is not afraid to bend the laws of the land (or even the laws of gravity) to get to the truth. Parlabane is nursing a horrific hangover when he stumbles across the corpse of the scion of a wealthy Edinburgh medical family. Determined to get to the bottom of the murder himself, he quickly becomes enmeshed in a wild adventure that will take him through all the strata of Edinburgh society and into some dangerous (and hysterical) situations. Laced with acerbic wit and crackling dialogue, Quite Ugly One Morning is a wickedly entertaining and vivacious thriller. "Very violent, very funny. A comedy with a political edge, which you take gleefully in one gulp." Literary Review "The plot crackles along with confident gusto and intelligence.... An assured debut by a talented writer." The Times (London)
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Inspector McGregor wished there was some kind of official crime scenario checklist, just so that he could have a quick glance and confirm that he had seen it all now. He hadn't sworn at a discovery for ages, perfecting instead a resigned, fatigued expression that said, 'Of course. How could I have possibly expected anything less?'
The kids had both moved out now. He was at college in Bristol and she was somewhere between Bombay and Bangkok, with a backpack, a dose of the runs and some nose-ringed English poof of a boyfriend. Amidst the unaccustomed calm and quiet, himself and the wife had remembered that they once actually used to like each other, and work had changed from being somewhere to escape to, to something he hurried home from.
He had done his bit for the force worked hard, been dutiful, been honest, been dutifully dishonest when it was required of him; he was due his reward and very soon he would be getting it.
Islay. Quiet wee island, quiet wee polis station. No more of the junkie undead, no more teenage jellyhead stabbings, no more pissed-up rugby fans impaling themselves on the Scott Monument, no more tweed riots in Jenners, and, best of all, no more fucking Festival. Nothing more serious to contend with than illicit stills and the odd fight over cheating with someone else's sheep.
Christ. Who was he kidding? He just had to look at what was before him to realise that the day after he arrived, Islay would declare itself the latest independentstate in the new Europe and take over Ulster's mantle as the UK's number one terrorist blackspot.
The varied bouquet of smells was a delightful courtesy detail. From the overture of fresh vomit whiff that greeted you at the foot of the close stairs, through the mustique of barely cold urine on the landing, to the tear-gas, fist-in-face guard-dog of guff that savaged anyone entering the flat, it just told you how much fun this case would be.
McGregor looked grimly down at his shoes and the ends of his trousers. The postman's voluminous spew had covered the wooden floor of the doorway from wall to wall, and extended too far down the hall for him to clear it with a jump. His two-footed splash had streaked his Docs, his ankles and the yellowing skirting board. Another six inches and he'd have made it, but he hadn't been able to get a run at it because of the piss, which had flooded the floor on the close side of the doorway, diked off from the tide of gastric refugees by a draught excluder.
The postman had noticed that the door was ajar and had knocked on it, then pushed it further open, leaning in to see whether the occupant was all right. Upon seeing what was within he had simultaneously thrown up and wet himself, the upper and lower halves of his body depositing their damning comments on the situation either side of the aperture.
'Postman must be built like the fuckin' Tardis,' McGregor muttered to himself, leaving vomity footprints on the floorboards as he trudged reluctantly down the hall. 'How could a skinny wee smout like that hold so much liquid?'
He had a quick look at the lumpy puddle behind him. Onion, rice, the odd cardamom pod. Curry, doubtless preceded by a minimum six pints of heavy. Not quite so appetising second time around.
He turned again to face into the flat, took a couple of short paces, then heard a splash and felt something splat against his calves.
'Sorry, sir. Long jump never was my speciality. Guess I'll be for the high jump now, eh? Ha ha ha.'
Ah yes, thought McGregor. Only now was it complete. Deep down he had suspected that it wasn't quite cataclysmically hellish enough yet, but now Skinner was here, and the final piece was in place. What this situation had needed, what it had been audibly crying out for, was a glaikit, baw-faced, irritating, clumsy, thick, ginger-heided bastard to turn up and start cracking duff jokes, and here was PC Gavin Skinner to answer the call.
He was not going to lose his temper. He felt that on a morning like this, it was only a short distance between snapping at Skinner and waking up in a soft room in Gogarburn, wearing a jumper with sleeves that fitted twice round the waist. He breathed in and out, closing his eyes for a short, beautiful second.
'Gavin, you're on spew-guarding duty,' he said calmly. 'Stay there. Guard the spew.'
'Do you want me to take down its details, sir?' Skinner asked loudly in his inimitable jiggle-headed way. 'Read it its rights maybe?'
'Yes, Gavin,' McGregor said wearily. 'All these things.'
Dear Lord, he thought, don't make me kill him today when I won't enjoy it.
McGregor ventured down the rest of the short hall to the doorless doorway at the end, which gave on to the living room. The room was at ninety degrees to the hall, a long, open area that ran the depth of the building, a partition wall having long since been consigned to a skip. Consequently, there were windows at either end. One of them was close-curtained, but through a gap McGregor could spy the crisp, cloudless blue sky and the lightly snow-dusted grass in the Square below. Through the other he could see the hazy, white-topped hills of Fife in the distance, the austere, dark blue calm of the Forth, and the snow-specked slate rooftops of Leith. In between there was a corpse in blood-drenched pyjama trousers, with most of its nose bitten off, two severed fingers stuffed up what remained of its nostrils, the rest of its face a swollen mass of bruising, and a wide gash around half the circumference of its neck. It was lying on the missing door, which sat at thirty degrees to the horizontal, propped up by the twisted metal frame of what had recently been a cheesy smoked-glass coffee table. The blood had run off the door and collected on the polished wood below, and might have lapped its way gently down to meet the postman's spew if much of it had not drained through a gap in the floorboards, from where it ran along an electrical flex into the main-door flat underneath, dripping off the end of the living room light-fitting. The police would find the unconscious Mrs Angus a few hours later amidst the damp fragments of a broken tea-set, and once revived she would swear never to let her clairvoyant sister-in-law bring the ouija board round again, before phoning a Catholic priest to come out and exorcise the place. And so what if she was C of S, when it came to this sort of thing, nothing less than a Tim would do.
Around the room's grotesque star attraction was a supporting cast of debris. Much of the floor was carpeted in scattered clothes, books and copies of the blue-covered British Medical Journal. There were huge, dark stains on the walls and floor around the kitchen door, shards of broken green glass and jagged bottle necks lying amidst the wine-soaked clothes and magazines. And there was a hatstand sticking out of the television screen, like a moderately impressive 3D effect.
McGregor looked on blankly and shook his head.
'So are we treating the death as suspicious, sir?' chimed Skinner cheerily from behind.
'Keep guarding the spew, Gavin.'
McGregor edged around some of the blood and leapt clear of the puddle, skidding slightly on a BMJ but managing to stay upright.
'Aw, fuck's sake,' whined Skinner's indefatigably loud voice.
McGregor turned his head to see DC Dalziel step gingerly through the rest of the postman's puddle as Skinner picked at his bespeckled trousers, and enjoyed a brief smile.
'Aw, Jesus, watch where you're ...'
'Naw, wait a wee ... [splash] Aw, in the name of ...'
The three of them hopped over the blood one by one and spent a few moments taking in the sheer scope of the carnage and disruption.
'Hey, try not to make a mess you lot, eh?' said Skinner, with slightly less enthusiastic joviality than before.
The four cops stood staring at the corpse, then at each other, then back at the corpse, and eventually out of the windows. Between them they were never, ever lost for words, but this one had run them pretty close.
'It's eh ...' started Callaghan strainedly, pulling at his chin.
McGregor slowly put a finger to his lips, and Callaghan nodded.
'The first one to say anything stupid gets full charge of this investigation, understood?'
'Yes, sir,' said Callaghan. Gow looked too ill to say much anyway. Dalziel just bit her lip and nodded.
McGregor looked again at the mutilated pyjama man.
'This,' he said, indicating the room in general, 'is what we experienced officers refer to officially as a fuckin' stoater. Observe and take notes, and consider yourselves highly privileged to be part of it.'
Callaghan lost his footing slightly as he tried not to step on any of the items scattered around the floor, and put his hand out to steady himself, grabbing a radiator behind an upturned armchair. Then his hand slid along it, causing him to fall backwards over the chair and rattle his head off the underside of a windowsill.
'Fuck's sake ... look at this,' he mourned.
There was dried and drying sick all over the hot radiator and down the wall behind it, which went some way towards explaining the overpowering stench that filled the room. But as pyjama man was only a few hours cold, his decay couldn't be responsible for the other eye-watering odour that permeated the atmosphere.
McGregor gripped the mantelpiece and was leaning over to offer Callaghan a hand up over the upturned chair when he saw it, just edging the outskirts of his peripheral vision. He turned his head very slowly until he found himself three inches away from it at eye level, and hoped his discovery was demonstrative enough to prevent anyone from remarking on it.
'Heh, there' a big keech on the mantelpiece, sir,' announced Skinner joyfully, having wandered up to the doorway.
For Gow it was just one human waste-product too many. As the chaotic room swam dizzily before him, he fleetingly considered that he wouldn't complain about policing the Huns' next visit if this particular chalice could be taken from his hands. McGregor caught his appealing and slightly scared look and glanced irritably at the door by way of excusing him, the Inspector reckoning that an alimentary contribution from the constabulary was pretty far down the list of things this situation needed right now.
They watched their white-faced colleague make an unsteady but fleet-footed exit and returned their gazes to the fireplace.
The turd was enormous. An unhealthy, evil black colour like a huge rum truffle with too much cocoa powder in the mixture. It sat proudly in the middle of the mantelpiece like a favourite ornament, an appropriate monarch of what it surveyed. Now that they had seen it, it seemed incredible that they could all have missed it at first, but in mitigation there were a few distractions about the place.
'Jesus, it's some size of loaf right enough,' remarked Callaghan, in tones that Dalziel found just the wrong side of admiring.
'Aye, it must have been a wrench for the proud father to leave it behind,' she said acidly.
'I suppose we'll need a sample,' Callaghan observed. 'There's a lab up at the RVI that can tell all sorts of stuff from just a wee lump of shite.'
'Maybe we should send Skinner there then,' muttered Dalziel. 'See what they can tell from him.'
'I heard that.'
'Naw, seriously,' Callaghan went on. 'They could even tell you what he had to eat.'
'We can tell what he had to eat from your sleeve,' Skinner observed.
'But we don't know which one's sick this is,' Callaghan retorted.
'We don't know which one's keech it is either.'
'Well I'd hardly imagine the deid bloke was in the habit of shiting on his own mantelpiece.'
'That's enough,' said McGregor, holding a hand up. 'We will need to get it examined. And the sick.'
'Bags not breaking this one to forensics,' said Dalziel.
'It'll be my pleasure,' said the Inspector, delighted at the thought of seeing someone else's day ruined as well.
'Forensics can lift the sample then,' said Callaghan.
'No, no,' said McGregor, smiling grimly to himself. 'I think a specimen as magnificent as this one should be preserved intact. Skinner,' he barked, turning round. 'This jobbie is state evidence and is officially under the jurisdiction of Lothian and Borders Police. Remove it, bag it and tag it.'
Excerpted from quite ugly one morning by christopher brookmyre. Copyright © 1996 by Christopher Brookmyre. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Clever and resourceful hero bests the baddies in Edinburgh. Very satisfying.
QUOM is such a good book. I don¿t even know how to describe it.....Carl Hiassen meets PD James? The stories are set in Scotland, and I have to admit, it took me at least a chapter to perk up and realize I was on to something wonderful. I just finished the second one, Country of the Blind and it is almost as good. The shear unexpectedness of Quite Ugly just swept me away though. Sometimes the first introduction ot an author can never be replaced. Read this!! Dont look for deep forensic investigation, these books are plot/character driven, and sometimes the little things (like DNA)might get overlooked. Of course this book was first published over 10 years ago, so that may factor in as well. I loved QUOM...it is a good mystery, something of a social commentary and a great laugh.I am ordering the rest of Brookmyre's titles right now.
I loved this author's style and prose. I was able to do a lot of laughing while still enjoying the meat of a good mystery. This will definately not be my last encounter with this author.
This is one of my favorite books. I've bought it twice in Britain only to have it 'borrowed' by so-called friends who gave it to their friends and so on. I read this just after it came out in 1998 and have been screaming for US publishers to pick Brookmyre up. If you like Agatha Christie, stay away. Brookmyre has all the humor of early Hiaasen but is much edgier, much hipper. The first chapter has to be read to be appreciated. Buy this book, I'm tired of having go to England to buy his books.