Meet Mystery Man... owner of a Belfast crime bookshop, partner of long-suffering Alison, father of Page (well, his dad is a bookseller), son of a homicidal/suicidal woman, and a truly amazing detective.
His soul is black, his humour is dark and cynical, he hates his customers, he’s pathetically neurotic and he’s the classic antihero creation of the very clever Bateman (better known as Colin Bateman, screenplay writer for the films Divorcing Jack and Wild About Harry and the popular TV series Murphy’s Law starring James Nesbitt).
The Prisoner of Brenda is Bateman’s fourth Mystery Man novel featuring the Small Bookseller with No Name whose little grey cells are rivalled only by Hercule Poirot and who hasn’t yet heard of political correctness (much to the relief of his followers!).
The Mystery Man series has become cult reading and it’s easy to see why; the books harness cracking mystery stories in a mad, mad world of crazy Belfast characters and throwaway lines which deliver a hilarious and often hard-hitting punch at all those things Mystery Man hates, like politicians, big business, the publishing industry and faceless mega-bookstores.
Entertaining plotlines play out within the parameters of classic crime writing but still manage to puncture pretentiousness, raise belly laughs and celebrate sick jokes and scintillating sarcasm.
Business is slow for Mystery Man, owner of No Alibis, Belfast’s finest mystery bookshop which boasts a ‘Buy One Get One for Exactly the Same Price’ table at its heart, so when Nurse Brenda, a vital cog in the wheel of his last case, turns up with ‘a puzzle’ for him, he simply can’t refuse her offer to investigate.
Notorious gangster ‘Fat Sam’ Mahood, a man who did ‘big and scary’ very well and made a successful living from it, has been stabbed to death at a city gym with the chief suspect arrested nearby.
But the suspect seems to have suffered a breakdown. Incarcerated in Purdyburn, a huge Victorian mental institution and a place all too familiar to former patient Mystery Man, he is known only as the Man in the White Suit.
It’s an enigma which caring Nurse Brenda is eager to solve so she calls on Mystery Man to bring his powers of investigation to bear despite some reservations on the part of Alison who is not convinced that the ‘puzzle’ couldn’t develop into a full-blown danger mission.
Aided by Jeff, part-time shop assistant, aspiring poet and now unwilling babysitter, intrepid Mystery Man enters the asylum as an undercover patient but before our hero can even begin his investigations, the Man in the White Suit is arrested for the murder of a fellow patient.
But is he a double murderer or a helpless scapegoat? Intrigue, conspiracy, and ancient Latin curses all combine to give the Small Bookseller with No Name his most perplexing, frustrating and dangerous case to date.
The Prisoner of Brenda delivers on all the levels we have come to expect from Bateman – brutal action, suspense, a compelling crime maze and brilliantly unique humour.
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(Headline, paperback, £14.99)