Christopher Brookmyre is, hands down, one of the funniest, savviest crime writers around. Since his 1996 debut, Quite Ugly One Morning, in which he savaged NHS Trust-related corruption with a murderous pen, he's waged black-comic, satirical war on everything from pretentious psychics to the religious establishment. Without shying away from the darker elements of crime thrillers – evil, violence and plenty of gore – Brookmyre's work shimmers with a sense of unfettered fun. As talented with one-liners as he is with plotlines, he also demonstrates clear affection for his characters: he gives as generous heft to his stand-alone protagonists as he does to regulars.
In When the Devil Drives, the second in a series which features not one but two canny female protagonists (the first was last year's Where the Bodies Are Buried), the cheekily named Jasmine Sharp is a would-be actor turned private investigator. Her latest assignment, tracing a woman's long-lost sister, takes Sharp back into the world of professional theatre when she uncovers a 30-year-old mystery with potentially scandalous roots: an early-Eighties drug-fuelled retreat at a Highlands estate threatens to reach into the upper echelons of Scotland's present-day arts community, and someone's not happy with that at all.
Meanwhile, Detective Superintendent Catherine McLeod, who's been fretting about her sons playing violent video games, is called to the scene of a most unusual murder. The laird of Cragruthes Castle has implemented regular amateur theatrical performances as a profit-making, high-profile client treat. But on this particular midsummer's night, following an outdoor performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, someone is unceremoniously shot dead during a post-performance photo call in front of 35 other people.
As detective and PI pursue solutions to their individual mysteries, you know that they are bound to collide. It's just a matter of when, where and how. Brookmyre is a master at juggling multiple storylines, protagonists and narrators (in When the Devil Drives, even the killer weighs in from time to time) and in this series, he's slyly building a complex rapport between his two wily protagonists: there's a budding cat-and-mouse relationship developing between Sharp and McLeod, along with one of mutual respect.
While Sharp has the more beguiling backstory at the moment (a mysterious ex-gangster, Glen Fallan, appears to hold information about her unknown father, and also has an uncanny ability to pop up when Sharp needs him most), McLeod is no slouch when it comes to kicking red herrings out of the way, gritting her teeth and homing in on the criminal matter at hand. I still live in hope that Brookmyre's suburban housewife turned superspy Jane Fleming, of 2005's All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses An Eye fame, will reappear in future books, but in the meantime, I'm already looking forward to the next Sharp-McLeod outing.