Fleshmarket Close by Ian Rankin: Book Review

The latest Rebus book I’ve read is Fleshmarket Close. As usual with Ian Rankin’s books this is a complex novel, based around the issues of asylum seekers, illegal immigrants and racial prejudice. Rebus, himself is tolerant, pointing out that his grandfather was Polish and an immigrant. But Rebus hasn’t mellowed at all. He is still a loner and now an outsider, shipped out of his old office, St Leonard’s to Gayfield Square where there is no office or even desk space for him. He’s impatient with his superiors, realising they think it’s time for him to retire.

There is plenty going on in this book, a lot of characters and sub-plots, so it needs concentrated reading. There’s the murder of an unknown immigrant found dead in Knoxland, high-rise blocks of flats, the discovery of two skeletons under the concrete floor in the cellar of the Warlock pub in Fleshmarket Close, the disappearance of Ishbel Jardine, whose sister, a rape victim, had committed suicide, and the murder of the convicted rapist, Donny Cruickshank. 

Rebus is relentless in his pursuit of the truth, despite his drinking problems and his difficulties in maintaining any meaningful relationships. DS Siobhan Clarke is also feeling more and more as though she is turning into Rebus, with her late-night lone drinking and methods of working,and there are signs that she and Rebus are drawing closer.  How all the cases connect, or indeed if they do connect, is not clear until near the end of the book, when Big Ger Cafferty makes a brief appearance. Although Rebus can’t prove it he knows that Cafferty was behind the scenes using, abusing, conning and manipulating people.

A Question of Blood by Ian Rankin: Book Review

I’ve recently finished reading Ian Rankin’s A Question of Blood, the 14th Inspector Rebus book, only three more left to read now!

Lee Herdman, is an ex-SAS loner who shoots and kills two teenagers, injuring another at a private school in South Queensferry near Edinburgh, before killing himself. Rebus, also ex-Army and a loner is the ideal man to investigate and he becomes obsessed with discovering what drove Herdman to do it.

But the book begins with Rebus in hospital having scalded his hands by tripping into his bath, or so he says. With his hands in bandages, DS Siobhan Clarke helps him out by being his driver. She is also becoming more and more like Rebus, a loner who has no life outside her job, and drinks alone. She has panic attacks as a result of being stalked by Marty Fairstone, a housebreaker with several convictions for assault. When Fairstone is found burned to death in his house, after a late night drinking session with Rebus, Rebus is the number one suspect for his murder.

Rebus is forced to think of his family,  because one of the dead teenagers is a relation – Derek Renshaw, his cousin’s son. Family ties are highlighted in this book, not only through Rebus, but also through the relationship between the surviving teenager, James Bell and his father, the disreputable MSP Jack Bell, and also the Cotter family – the Goth teenager, Myss Teri, her parents and her brother who died in a car crash involving Derek Renshaw.

Rebus is his usual tormented self, but it is Siobhan who comes just as much into focus as Rebus and by the end of the book the relationship between them is strengthened:

He’d been thinking about families: not just his own, but all those connected to the case. Lee Herdman, walking away from his family; James and Jack Bell, seemingly with nothing to connect them but blood; Teri Cotter and her mother … And Rebus himself, replacing his own family with colleagues like Siobhan and Andy Callis, producing ties that oftentimes seemed stronger than blood. (pages 437-8)

I don’t think this is the best Rebus book Rankin has written, for me it dragged a bit in the middle and I think it could have been a bit less drawn out, but it’s still a good read, addressing more issues than just the crimes.

Resurrection Men by Ian Rankin: Book Review

I’m on a roll now with Ian Rankin’s Rebus books. Resurrection Men is excellent, so good that I couldn’t wait to get back to it each time I had to stop reading. And when I finished it I immediately got out the next book in the series A Question of Blood, which promises to be just as good.

Resurrection Men isn’t about body-snatchers (as I wondered it might be), but about the cops who need re-training, including Rebus. They’re at Tullialian, the Scottish Police College and they are a tough bunch indeed, ‘the lowest of the low‘ as one of them, DI Gray tells a witness he is interrogating:

We’re here because we don’t care. We don’t care about you, we don’t care about them. We could kick your teeth down your throat, and when they come to tell us off, we’d be laughing and slapping our thighs. Time was, buggars like you could end up inside one of the support pillars for the Kingston Bridge. See what I’m saying? (page 326)

To help them become team players – fat chance of that I thought – they’ve been given on old, unsolved case to work on. But Rebus was involved in the case at the time and begins to get paranoid about why is on the course. It’s a tough, gritty story and as with other Rebus books, there’s more than one investigation on the go, several, in fact, needing concentration to keep tabs on each one. Siobhan Clarke is now a DS and with Rebus away she is in charge of the case of the murdered art dealer. Siobhan is getting more and more like Rebus and has a much bigger part in this book than in previous books.

Rankin is great on characterisation – they’re all credible, I feel I know the main characters. His dialogue rings true to life and I felt like a fly on the wall throughout, a bit uncomfortable at times as Rebus gets into tricky situations and tries to work out who he can trust. Both he and I were unsure right to the end.

Sunday Salon – Today’s Books

This morning I’ve been reading The Border Line by Eric Robson, of interest because we live near the border – the one between England and Scotland. This is the account of Robson’s walk following the border line from the Solway Firth to Berwick-upon-Tweed. It’s also interesting because Robson includes anecdotes, snippets of history and personal memories as well. For all the disputes over the border and the reivers’ raids there is a similarity between English and Scottish Borderers:

For more than four centuries the Borderlands were seen as the scrag end of their respective countries, the frayed edges of monarchy. English borderers and Scottish borderers at least had that much in common. The Border was a remote battleground where national ambitions could be fought over. Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmorland were excluded from the Domesday Book. They were regarded as a military buffer zone. They became a bearpit. (page 51)

The Reivers were romanticised by Sir Walter Scott,  who gave them ‘the spit-and -polish treatment’ and a ‘romantic bearing and heroic stature.’ Robson also sheds light on the derivation of words, such as ‘reiver’: a ‘reef” in Old English meant a line, a Shire Reeve was a man who protected boundaries, thus the reiver raided across the Border Line. ‘Blackmail’ has two possible derivations – greenmail was agricultural rent and blackmail was money taken at night, or protection money. Alternatively it could be that it came from the fact that the reivers blacked their armour to ride as shadows in the moonlight (page 49).  I prefer the alternative derivation.

Then I moved north of the Border Line into Scotland with my reading and finished Ian Rankin’s book The Falls, a book I first read a couple of years ago. I wrote about it at the time and I haven’t much to add to that post. The Falls combines so much of what I like to read – a puzzling mystery, convincing characters, well described locations, historical connections and a strong plot full of tension and pace. Rebus has morphed in my mind into a combination of the actors who’ve played him – John Hannah and Ken Stott – and his creator Ian Rankin. But there is no doubt that the books are far superior to the TV productions. The next Rebus book I’ll be reading is Resurrection Men.

Reading Dilemma – a Surfeit of Crime Fiction!

I feel I’m overdosing on crime fiction right now and need to read something else. I’m in the middle of Ian Rankin’s Dead Souls and whilst I think it’s a good story, I’m being sucked down to the dark side. Rebus is pessimistic:

…  once again Rebus’s speech had gone unspoken, the one about how he’s lost any sense of vocation, any feeling of optimism about the role – the very existence of policing. About how these thoughts scared him, left him either sleepless or scarred by bad dreams. About the ghosts which had come to haunt him, even in daytime. About how he didn’t want to be a cop any more. (page 17)

It doesn’t help that one of his colleagues has died after falling off Salisbury Crags – was it suicide or not? In addition as Mairie Henderson (journalist) says to him “I think something’s gone bad inside you.” He doesn’t disagree. There’s a paedophile who is being persecuted by his neighbours; an old girlfriend’s son has disappeared and he keeps wondering what his life would have been like if he’d not become a cop; he’s surveilling a killer who has returned to Edinburgh courtesy of the US government and he know it’s a waste of time; he has bad memories and is feeling guilty – he’s in a bad way.

I need to counter-balance this with something different, something unrelated to crime. But when I look at the other books I’ve started and those I’ve recently borrowed from the library I see they’re all crime fiction of one sort or another.

Back to my to-be-read piles, then. So, should I read … ?

  • The Snow Geese by William Fiennes. Marina Warner on the back cover states “he has renewed the variety and wonder of the world.”  It’s a blend of  natural history, the snow geese migration, and autobiography, meditations and philosophy.
  • The Pursuit of Happiness by Douglas Kennedy – but the back cover states it is a tragic love story of divided loyalties and the random workings of destiny. It’s set in 1945 in Manhattan. Not sure I want tragedy right now.
  • The Warrior’s Princess by Barbara Erskine. Maybe I’m in the mood for historical fiction. This is a dual time story – the present and two thousand years earlier at the time of Caractacus, king of the British tribes during a battle with the invading Romans.
  • An Equal Music by Vikram Seth. A friend gave me this one saying it’s a wonderful book. Again, (paraphrased) from the back cover – this is a book about love, music and loss – “the power of music to transform human experience.”
  • Maybe romantic comedy with The Sex Life of My Aunt by Mavis Cheek – “a modern morality tale … about the age-old conflict between love and money.”
  • Or how about Firmin: Adventures of  Metropolitan Lowlife by Sam Savage. Fimin is a rat, a literary rat living in the basement of a bookstore, who develops the ability to read.

Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin:Book Notes

I included Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin in a Weekly Geeks post on unreviewed books and Deb asked: Is ‘Knots and Crosses’ the first Rebus novel you’ve read? How important is it to you to read such a series in order? Does it matter? The Rebus novels, to me, are as much about Rankin’s development of his character as they are puzzles/crimes to be solved.

Eva asked: Is Knots and Crosses more of a mystery or a thriller?

Knots and Crosses is the first of the Rebus books, but it is not the first one I’ve read. I’ve also watched many of the TV dramas, although I don’t remember this one. I think it is better to read them in the order they were written because the character of Rebus evolves throughout the series. In Knots and Crosses various facts about his past are revealed, which helped me understand events in the later books. And it’s definitely more of a mystery than a thriller.

Briefly it’s about the search for the killer of young girls, set in Edinburgh. Rebus receives anonymous letters containing knotted string and matchstick crosses – a puzzle that is connected with his time in the SAS, that only he can solve. It’s fast paced and I did work out who the killer is before the end of the book, but that only added to my satisfaction.

Knots and Crosses is in an omnibus edition, Rebus: the Early Years, containing the first three Rebus books and a short introduction in which Rankin explains how he came to write the Rebus books:

I wanted to update Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to 1980s Edinburgh. My idea was: cop as good guy (Jekyll), villain as bad guy (Hyde). So I wrote Knots and Crosses. I was living in a room in a ground-floor flat in Arden Street, so my hero, John Rebus, had to live across the road. When the book was published, I found to my astonishment that everyone was saying that I’d written a whodunnit, a crime novel. I think I’m still the only crime writer I know who hadn’t a clue about the genre before setting out.

I’m now reading the second Rebus book –  Hide and Seek.

The Falls – Ian Rankin

The Falls (Inspector Rebus, #12)

I loved The Falls by Ian Rankin.  This is set in Edinburgh where a university student Philippa Balfour, known as ‘Flip’ to her friends and family has disappeared.  DI Rebus and his colleagues have just two leads to go on – a carved wooden doll found in a tiny coffin at The Falls, Flip’s home village, and an Internet game involving solving cryptic clues. Rebus concentrates on the tiny coffin and finds a whole series of them have turned up over the years dating back to 1836 when 17 were found on Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano within Holyrood Park, east of Edinburgh Castle. DC Siobhan Clarke meanwhile tries to solve the cryptic clues.

There are many things I liked about this book – the the interwoven plots, throwing up several suspects; the historical references to Burke and Hare, the 19th century resurrectionists; the spiky relationship between Rebus and his new boss Gill Templeton; Siobhan Clarke whose liking for doing things independently matches Rebus’s own maverick ways; and above all the setting in and around Edinburgh. All the way through I kept changing my mind about “who did it” and it was only just before the denoument that I worked it out.  This is a very satisfying book and I’m looking forward to reading more Rebus books very soon.