This week’s letter in the Crime Fiction Alphabet series is M and I’ve chosen Ian Rankin’s Mortal Causes, which is the one book I finished reading in December.
Mortal Causes is the sixth book in the Inspector Rebus series. In his introduction Ian Rankin explains that ‘mortal’ in the Scots vernacular means ‘drunk’ so Mortal Causes
evoked, in his mind, the demon drink, just as surely as it did any darker and more violent imagery. (page xii)
And there is a fair amount of violence in this dark book, starting with the discovery of a brutally tortured body in Mary King’s Close, an ancient Edinburgh street now buried beneath the High Street. It’s August in Edinburgh during the Festival.
Next time I visit Edinburgh I’d like to see Mary King’s Close. It’s open to the public and according to this website you can “experience the sights, sounds and maybe even smells of an amazing street that time forgot. Where everyday people went about their day to day lives and where you can now walk in their footsteps.” Just the place for a murder, away from the busy streets, undisturbed by the festival goers and soundproofed so no one would hear any gunshots or screams.
There are links to the Northern Ireland ‘troubles’, the IRA, the Catholic/Protestant conflict, the Secret Service and organised crime. Rebus works his way through this mix, seconded to the SCS (the Scottish Crime Squad) because he’d been in the Army and had served in Ulster in the 1960s. The relationship between Rebus and Big Ger Caffety, Edinburgh’s gangster boss, develops in this book as the victim is none other than Big Ger’s son and he insists Rebus finds his killer. He tells Rebus he wants revenge. His men
… are out there hunting, understood? And they’ll be keeping an eye on you. I want a result Strawman. … Revenge, Strawman, I’ll have it one way or the other. I’ll have it on somebody. (page 74)
Rebus’s personal life is no better, his relationship with Dr Patience Aitken is difficult. They quarrel, she tries to civilise him, giving him poetry books and tickets for ballet and modern dance:
Rebus had been there before, other times, other women. Asking for something more, for commitment beyond the commitment.
He didn’t like it. (page 81)
Their relationship is also threatened by Rebus’s involvement with Caroline Rattray, from the Procurator Fiscal’s office, who ‘is mad about him’.
This book, like the other Rebus books I’ve read, is more than crime fiction. It’s a complex story exploring the psychology of guilt, revenge and fear.