Bedlam by Christopher Brookmyre
Brookmyre's no slouch when it comes to fast-paced plots, pithy Scottish humour and ribald banter, and indeed the creation of compelling, put-upon, no-hoper anti-heroes, but none of these skills can save him in this terminally dire science fiction outing, which is pitched as a kind of Wreck-It Ralph for grownups, but hits closer to a charmless rip-off of Tron.
Whereas, in his crime novels, the proliferation of up to date pop culture references lends the prose a hip, current feel, in Bedlam they only serve to date the novel, and underline the paucity of research. Bedded firmly in the world of 80s video games at the start of the plot, replete with in-jokes that only gamers over 30 will glom, by the time Brookmyre's charmless übergeek reaches the worlds of Grand Theft Auto and Assassin's Creed, it's clear the author is paying lip service.
A joyless exposition-fest where Brookmyre's strongest qualities as a writer merely serve to hamstring him, this is conceptually weak, often baffling, and riddled with obvious turns of phrase and plot twists – making the ringing endorsements on the cover from Charles Stross and Iain M. Banks all the more perplexing. A rare miss from one of Scotland's best, this should be avoided by all but die-hard console nostalgics. [Bram E. Gieben]