There is something familial with Iain Banks' latest novel. The central character Stewart Gilmour returns to his home town in native Scotland – a theme explored in earlier works Espedair Street and The Crow Road. The town is fictional Stonemouth, north of Aberdeen, approached over a suspension bridge (The Bridge and Complicity). It is told in flashback during the unfolding events of a long weekend. Gilmour had been run out of town five years previously after being caught in flagrante with the daughter of one of the town's two competing gangsters (Mike MacAvett), a week before his wedding to the daughter of the other gangster (Don Murston). He returns to attend the funeral of grandfather Murston, but justifiably both Don and his homicidal offspring are not keen on his presence about town.
Banks paints a picture of a sleepy rural idyll, the town's policing effectively taken care of by the warring families. After the five years away, Gilmour slots seamlessly back into the Friday night drinking in the local hostelries with his buddies, and the Saturday afternoon poker sessions. All the faces are known and are delineated by their academic year - he was the year below and thus not my closest fiend.
The prose is littered with popular culture references, thrown around like confetti. A nod to Tinchy, a wink at Cee Lo Green. But it doesn't ring true - it's like Roseanne Barr's classic line "Hey I'm hip and trendy - I like that Snoopy Dog Dog". In other words, jarring references that could be written by my father or grandfather but not by 25 year old Gilmour. Therein lies the problem - there is no authenticity to the narrated voice - it feels like it's been written by the middle-aged man Iain Banks is.
Banks skill is his master storytelling. The book is paced to perfection and there is a genuine feeling of separation anxiety when the book comes to an end. It's an easy read but it lacks the sheer creativity of Walking on Glass with its sinister cigar-chewing, wise-cracking crow. It doesn't possess the jaw-dropping macabre scenes such as the maggots eating the baby's brains in The Wasp Factory. It isn't a scholarly masterpiece like A Song of Stone. So what exactly is it? It's an effortless book with a likeable lead, an enigmatic femme fatale and a bunch of bad guys and that's pretty much it. It's Banks Lite.