Book Review: Pandaemonium

Pandaemonium (Abacus, 2010), by Christopher Brookmyre, is about an ultra-secret Vatican research facility buried deep inside a mountain in the Scottish Highlands. Steinmeyer, the scientist who has discovered a portal to what looks very much like Hell, is locked in ideological battle with Cardinal Tullian, the priest put in charge of his project.

A few miles away, a group of teenagers from a Catholic school in Glasgow are on a retreat at an outdoor adventure centre, there to come to terms with a murder/suicide at school.

We know the creatures in the lab are going to escape and head for the adventure centre. So far so formulaic. But nothing is quite what it seems. Brookmyre puts an entirely new set of wheels on this hoary old plot.

His characterization is brilliant. The 29 kids and 4 staff come through loud and clear in their individual voices, although this took a few chapters to sink in, greatly helped by the inclusion of ‘Adnan’s Quick-Reference Gamer Guide’, which lists the membership of various cliques. (Adnan is a gamer, brought up Muslim, now an atheist). The Word according to Adnan is: Adnan’s Mates, Heidthebaws, the Hard Team, the Beautiful People, Back-Biting Bitches, God Squad, Splendid Isolation, Mostly Harmless, and the Staff. As a bonus, I learned a great deal of useful Glaswegian. Eat your heart out, Stanley Baxter.

Brookmyre sets up two conflicting realities – what seem like kosher demons and a group of humans who argue about the theoretical existence of God. When they come together, all Hell breaks loose.

This is a sneaky, funny, gruesome book, full of surprises and epiphanies. Brookmyre has ripped the guts out of the schlock horror formula, creating something genuinely unsettling.

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