You know that feeling when you haven’t spoken to a friend in a while but the second you start chatting you just slip back into an easy groove and it’s like no time has passed at all? That’s what reading The Cut was like for me.
So, although it’s been a while since my last Chris Brookmyre read, his voice rang through the pages loud and clear and I was instantly back in very likeable territory. Crime territory.
Opening sentence: Jerry crouched alongside Millicent’s bed and checked again for a pulse.
The Cut is set (well, some of it anyway – there is a jaunt to Europe too) in Scottish author Chris Brookmyre’s hometown of Glasgow.
Our first lead character is Millicent Spark. She served 24 years in prison for the murder of her boyfriend and we meet her a year after her release, now a woman in her 70s. Incarcerated in 1994, the modern, digital age is a mystery to her. Before she was sent to prison, Millicent was a special effects make-up artist on films, specifically horror films.
Our second lead character is Jerry Kelly – a uni student and film (specifically horror) and metal buff. (The Cut is packed full of highly enjoyable film references due to this.)
When circumstances mean that Jerry takes a spare room in the house Millicent is also living in, their paths cross and their shared love of horror films ends up changing the course of their lives.
The curse of Mancipium
Millicent has always maintained her innocence and when she stumbles upon some hard evidence that may help her prove she didn’t kill her boyfriend, things get dramatic. All paths lead back to the last film Millicent worked on before she was sent to prison, a gory horror called Mancipium. A supposedly cursed film (in the vein of The Omen and others) due to what happened to several of the people involved in its creation.
The meaning of the last quarter century had just been altered and she wasn’t ready to shuffle off until she had some answers.
What ensues is an exciting and clever cross-Europe chase for the truth, told by people linked to the film and in flashbacks to the 90s when the fateful film shoot happened.
If someone flat-out tells you their agenda, they’re definitely not telling you their agenda.
Things get personal
What gave The Cut its soul were the character developments of Millicent and Jerry. It was fascinating to read from the POV of a 70 year old woman re-adjusting to life after being imprisoned for so long. She has to come to terms with once again having freedom and choice – while trying to prove she didn’t actually murder anyone.
Jerry is trying to overcome his imposter syndrome – being mixed race and from a working class background, he feels pressure and prejudice and struggles with feeling he is worth anything – while inadvertently getting himself very involved in Millicent’s mission.
Cutting in more ways than one
I really enjoyed the class commentary that ran throughout too. The satirical and cutting take on the Tory government and people ‘born three-nothing up and convinced they’ve scored a hat trick.’ There were also some great observations about how society has got itself into such a state:
‘The reason people don’t value facts is because they belong to everyone,’ she replied. ‘Myths and rumours feel like secret knowledge, and so people prize them more.’
There were one or two coincidences in the plot that made me raise an eyebrow slightly, but hey, it’s 2021, so LITERALLY anything can happen. Nothing seems crazy anymore. The Cut also gets the accolade of being the first novel I’ve read that directly references the pandemic. Although only in the epilogue and not at the heart of the story. (I was wondering when the first refs would crop up, answer: now.)
Clever, very funny and with a rip-roaring pace that meant I just zipped through it. I loved the cursed horror film backdrop, all the great film quotes, scathing commentary on class, the plot that always throws a little more at you when you’re not expecting it and Chris Brookmyre’s highly readable voice. Excellent, witty crime fiction.