Stonemouth – Iain Banks

Stonemouth is Stewart Gilbert’s home town situated on the coast north of Aberdeen. Stewart has returned to Stonemouth from London to attend a funeral having been exiled for five years after some unfortunate incident involving the Murston family – the local gangsters. The Murtson’s have allowed him to return, but Stewart is wary that time has not necessarily been a great healer and that he must watch his step and his back, or find himself being thrown off the nearby suspension bridge.

 The story is mixture of present tense narration by Stewart of his day-by-day re-acquaintance with old school friends, old flames and local haunts leading up to the funeral, and past-tense flashbacks during which we are introduced to the Murston clan; the maniac brothers, the Machiavellian younger sister and the older sister who is the object of Stewarts love, and drip-fed the back-story by Banks.

Banks plays a clever balancing act between present and past and how much of the story is filled in as we reach the obvious post-funeral finale. The love story is realistic and touching, and the hanging threat of violence from the mob family is exhilarating at times. In terms of plotting it seems less complex than some of his other non-M (i.e. non sci-fi) outings, but this helps the pace of the book and makes it a good page-turner without the requirement to turn back to check on plot points.

 I can easily see this made into a television drama in the future along the lines of The Crow Road as it has some great fleshed out characters, smart dialogue, some memorable pieces of action and an episodic feel to the tale.

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