‘Proportionality bias is the instinctive notion that a large outcome must have had a large cause. It’s why we find it hard to accept that a princess can simply die in a car crash or that a lone sniper can take down a president. In a world that seems frighteningly chaotic, we crave a sense of order, and paradoxically we would rather believe malevolent forces are exerting control than accept that no one is. It’s why the boys in Lord of the Flies dreamt up the Beast.”

– Max Temple, academic and conspiracy theory debunker


Fallen Angel, former journalist Chris Brookmyre’s latest book, is a page turner. Set in dual timelines, 2002 and 2018, and told from multiple viewpoints, the plot is linked by two catastrophic events and their impact on a prominent family; its multi-strands showcase the author’s mastery as a storyteller extraordinaire.

In 2018, the ‘now’, the Temples gather at a villa in Portugal, following the death of patriarch Max – it’s the first time that some of them have seen each other in 16 years. In 2002, they came under fire, following the disappearance of young Niamh Temple during a family holiday. Since then conspiracy theories about Niamh abound, no doubt exacerbated by Max Temple’s status as a celebrity academic and debunker of conspiracies.

The events of that day in 2002 gradually unravel through the multiple perspectives of those involved, supplemented by the 2018 first-person narrative of Amanda, a Canadian vlogger and would-be journalist, who’s nannying for the Temples’ neighbours. But what’s real and what’s not?

Dealing with an extremely emotive subject, Fallen Angel is not the first book to explore a child’s disappearance – there are many fine examples, not least Ian McEwan’s impeccable The Child in Time – and yet its setting and focus inevitably evoke the real-life disappearance of Madeleine McCann in Portugal 12 years ago. Yet, in many ways, while Niamh’s disappearance informs the story, providing the frame, Fallen Angel is arguably more an exploration of family relationships, the shapes and contours of the siblings’/parent–child (and so on) dynamic, making this more a family drama than a crime-fiction novel, if it has to be defined at all. The book also brings into question the exploitative nature of the media/social media and our need for conspiracies and drama where none may exist.

Fallen Angel is a beautifully written, thought-provoking read, like other Brookmyre tomes. It is highly recommended.


Fallen Angel | Chris Brookmyre | Little, Brown | 25 April 2019 | hardback | £18.99

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Acknowledgements: Max Temple text, p. 195, Fallen Angel © Christopher Brookmyre 2019. This review is published as part of the virtual book tour. Thanks to Grace Vincent and Caolinn Douglas at Little, Brown, the publisher, for organising it and supplying a review copy. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved


Also of interest: ‘Call Me Star Girl’;Falling from the Floating World’; ‘Blood Orange’; Beton Rouge’; ‘Gallowstree Lane‘; The Lost Man‘; ‘Delia Owen’s Where the Crawdad’s Sing’; ‘The Story Keeper, Anna Mazzola’s Gothic novel‘; ‘Midland‘; ‘A Greater God‘; ‘Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, Dialogue’s brilliant debut; ‘We should all be feminists’; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’;RW Kwon’s The Incendiaries’; ‘Beautiful words – The Language of Secrets’; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir‘; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”’; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).

This review is © 2019 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.