Book Review – A QUESTION OF BLOOD (2003) by Ian Rankin

A QUESTION OF BLOOD by IAN RANKIN (2003, Orion, 440pp) ****

Image result for a question of blood ian rankinBlurb: Two seventeen-year-olds are killed by an ex-Army loner who has gone off the rails. The mystery takes Rebus into the heart of a shattered community. Ex-Army himself, Rebus becomes fascinated by the killer, and finds he is not alone. Army investigators are on the scene, and won’t be shaken off. The killer had friends and enemies to spare and left behind a legacy of secrets and lies. Rebus has more than his share of personal problems, too. He’s fresh out of hospital, but won’t say how it happened. Could there be a connection with a house-fire and the unfortunate death of a petty criminal who had been harassing Rebus’s colleague Siobhan Clarke?

This was the fourteenth book in Ian Rankin’s perpetually popular Inspector Rebus series. The subject matter resonates strongly in light of recent instances of campus shootings in the US. Rankin uses the plot to tackle a number of themes including some of his favourites – single-minded politicians, government cover-ups, changes in modern society, families. He also explores the trust in the relationship between Rebus and his DS Siobhan Clarke by having Rebus suspected of killing a low-life who had been stalking Clarke. The main plot is presented as a “why-dunnit” as Rebus is called in by a colleague due to his military background to help with the investigation of a multiple shooting at a public school. The various plot strands and themes unfold and ultimately begin to intermingle and connect. Rankin’s skill as a writer ensures these progressions feel natural connections rather than contrivances. Only in the finale does the plot seem forced.

By now, Rankin is totally at home with his characters and Rebus remains a fascinating creation – a loner, yes, but one who’s affection for Clarke is seen as a surrogate for the daughter he no longer sees. Whilst there would be just three more books in the series’ initial run which ended in 2007, that Rankin returned to the character five years later and restarted the series is testament to the affection he holds for Rebus.

The Rebus series rated:

  1. Knots and Crosses (1987) ***
  2. Hide and Seek (1991) ***
  3. Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992) ***
  4. Strip Jack (1992)
  5. The Black Book (1993) ***
  6. Mortal Causes (1994) ***
  7. Let it Bleed (1996)
  8. Black and Blue (1997)
  9. The Hanging Garden (1998) ****
  10. Dead Souls (1999)
  11. Set in Darkness (2000) ****
  12. The Falls (2001)
  13. Resurrection Men (2002) ****
  14. A Question of Blood (2003) ****
  15. Fleshmarket Close (2004) ****
  16. The Naming of the Dead (2006)  ****½
  17. Exit Music (2007) ****
  18. Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012) ∗∗∗½
  19. Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013) ***
  20. Even Dogs in the Wild (2015) ****
  21. Rather Be the Devil (2016) ***½

Rebus to return to our TV screens

Being a huge fan of Ian Rankin’s Rebus series of crime novels I was delighted to hear today Rankin’s announcement that Eleventh Hour Films have bought the TV rights. The books will be adapted by fellow Scot Gregory Burke and the adaptations are likely to be longer format, given Rankin’s previous comments, than the previous series starring John Hannah and Ken Stott.

Burke says: “It is an honour and a privilege to have the opportunity to work on adapting an iconic character like John Rebus for television. As someone who has grown up and lives in South East Scotland, Ian Rankin’s best-selling books provide the perfect material to make a thrilling series about crime in the modern world.”

Ian Rankin adds: “I’m so thrilled and honoured that Gregory Burke is bringing his outstanding storytelling talent to Rebus. As far as I’m concerned it’s the perfect match, allowing the character of John Rebus to emerge in all his complex three-dimensional glory.”

This is great news to celebrate during the 30th anniversary of Rankin’s debut Rebus novel Knots & Crosses.

Book Review – RATHER BE THE DEVIL (2016) by Ian Rankin

RATHER BE THE DEVIL by IAN RANKIN (2016, Orion, 310pp) ∗∗∗½

Blurb: For John Rebus, forty years may have passed, but the death of beautiful, promiscuous Maria Turquand still preys on his mind. Murdered in her hotel room on the night a famous rock star and his entourage were staying there, Maria’s killer has never been found. Meanwhile, the dark heart of Edinburgh remains up for grabs. A young pretender, Darryl Christie, may have staked his claim, but a vicious attack leaves him weakened and vulnerable, and an inquiry into a major money laundering scheme threatens his position. Has old-time crime boss Big Ger Cafferty really given up the ghost, or is he biding his time until Edinburgh is once more ripe for the picking?

Rankin’s twenty-first Rebus novel is an entertaining read and one that shows Rankin is extremely comfortable with his characters. In this one the plot is fairly ordinary based around two cases that weave into one. Rebus is now long-retired, but investigating an old case and still sparring with gangster Big Ger Cafferty. The interplay between the main characters is what works best in this book. Rankin otherwise plays to more conventional crime fiction tropes and as such the book feels closer to his earlier work than his later, more complex novels. Siobhan Clarke and Malcolm Fox are on-board as is Cafferty’s challenger for the control of the Edinburgh crime scene – Darryl Christie. The book continues the gangland arc from Even Dogs in the Wild and sees it through to a satisfying conclusion, that sets up the series for the future. Rebus himself, is coming to terms with growing old and bronchial problems. He has, however, lost none of his acerbic wit and doggedness. Seeing him work with, but outside of, the police has given the series a new lease of life.

Book Review – EVEN DOGS IN THE WILD by Ian Rankin (2015)

EVEN DOGS IN THE WILD by IAN RANKIN (2015, Orion, 408pp) ∗∗∗∗

BlurbRetirement doesn’t suit John Rebus. He wasn’t made for hobbies, holidays or home improvements. Being a cop is in his blood. So when DI Siobhan Clarke asks for his help on a case, Rebus doesn’t need long to consider his options. Clarke’s been investigating the death of a senior lawyer whose body was found along with a threatening note. On the other side of Edinburgh, Big Ger Cafferty – Rebus’s long-time nemesis – has received an identical note and a bullet through his window.

This is the twentieth novel in Ian Rankin’s highly successful Rebus series and he shows no signs of tiring of his creation. It is a punchy and absorbing crime novel, expertly plotted and populated with a strong cast of characters. The retired Rebus is now acting as a consultant to the police and his interplay with ex-colleagues and gangsters remains as sharp as ever. Freed from the shackles of paperwork and the need to answer for his actions, Rebus is re-energised with Rankin having fun with theses aspects. Clarke and Malcolm Fox are also given room to breathe with Fox determined to prove he is a good detective and often going off radar to do so and Clarke the control element to clue the investigation together. Two plot threads intertwine with current affairs, a trademark of Rankin’s novels. There is also a softening of the character of Big Ger Cafferty – Rebus’ lifelong gangster nemesis – and whilst their scenes together contain the usual caustic banter, Rankin shows the men have a high level of respect for each other. Already Rebus 21 is in the works with Rather Be the Devil due out in hardback in November as the series continues to maintain its level of quality.

Book Review – SET IN DARKNESS (2000) by Ian Rankin

SET IN DARKNESS by IAN RANKIN (2000, Orion, Paperback, 466pp) ∗∗∗∗
      Blurb: Edinburgh is about to become the home of the first Scottish parliament in 300 years. As political passions run high, DI John Rebus is charged with liaison, thanks to the new parliament being resident in Queensbury House, bang in the middle of his patch. But Queensbury House has its own, dark past. Legend has it that a young man was roasted there on a spit by a madman. When the fireplace where the youth died is uncovered another more recent murder victim is found. Days later, in the gardens outside, there is another body and Rebus is under pressure to find instant answers. As the case proceeds, the Inspector finds himself face to face with one of Edinburgh’s most notorious criminals...

The eleventh book in Ian Rankin‘s Inspector Rebus series is an engrossing mystery, which weaves its various plot threads with masterly precision. Whilst the book starts slowly it allows time for Rankin to introduce his characters. The mysteries surrounding a politician’s murder, a 20-year old corpse and a serial rapist who targets singles clubs dovetail into a satisfying thriller in which Rebus’ unconventional methods continue to annoy his superiors. Then, we discover Rebus’ nemesis and Edinburgh’s Mr Big – Big Ger Cafferty – has been released from prison having been diagnosed with cancer. This sets up a tense head to head between Rebus and Cafferty which adds additional edge to the second half of the book. Rankin brings all these elements to the boil brilliantly and the finale is ironic, brutal and shocking and leaves the reader wanting more.

The Rebus series runs to 20 novels. I’ve read 13 of them and these are marked in bold in the list below. The early books lack the depth that Rankin would add to the series later by linking his plots to topical issues, but all are very readable:

  1. Knots and Crosses (1987) ∗∗∗
  2. Hide and Seek (1991) ∗∗∗
  3. Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992) ∗∗∗
  4. Strip Jack (1992)
  5. The Black Book (1993) ∗∗∗
  6. Mortal Causes (1994) ∗∗∗
  7. Let it Bleed (1996)
  8. Black and Blue (1997)
  9. The Hanging Garden (1998) ∗∗∗∗
  10. Dead Souls (1999)
  11. Set in Darkness (2000) ∗∗∗∗
  12. The Falls (2001)
  13. Resurrection Men (2002) ∗∗∗∗
  14. A Question of Blood (2003)
  15. Fleshmarket Close (published in the USA as Fleshmarket Alley) (2004) ∗∗∗∗
  16. The Naming of the Dead (2006)  ∗∗∗∗½
  17. Exit Music (2007) ∗∗∗∗
  18. Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012) ∗∗∗½
  19. Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013) ∗∗∗
  20. Even Dogs in the Wild (2015)

Book Review – SAINTS OF THE SHADOW BIBLE (2013) by Ian Rankin

SAINTS OF THE SHADOW BIBLE by IAN RANKIN (2013, Orion Books Ltd., Paperback, 389pp) ∗∗∗∗∗

Blurb: A thirty-year-old case is being reopened, and Rebus’ team from back then is suspected of foul play. With Malcolm Fox as the investigating officer, are the past and present about to collide in a shocking and murderous fashion? And does Rebus have anything to hide? His old colleagues call themselves “the Saints” and swore a bond on something called “the Shadow Bible”. But times have changed and the crimes of the past may not stay hidden much longer.

Saints-of-the-Shadow-Bible-Rebus is out of retirement and back on the force – although at the lower rank of Detective Sergeant with Siobhan Clarke now his boss, having ascended to his old rank of Detective Inspector. The case they are working is a car accident where the driver has fled the scene of the crime, but all is not as it seems as the plot thickens to involve local gangsters and a rich businessman. This give Rankin ample time to bring Rebus’ cynicism with both authority and big business to the fore.

Alongside this, the main plot around the death of a local low-life who had escaped prison thirty years previously – seemingly due to police ineptitude – looks like implicating the team Rebus joined as a Detective Constable when he began his career with CID. The relationship between these old-school veteran cops is strained and we also meet an old flame of Rebus as well as a potential new love interest.

Rankin weaves these two separate plots cleverly and the characters retain their interest throughout. He also allows us brief glimpses inside other characters – a variance from his usual focus on Rebus and Clarke. Whilst the book is not as strong as the best entries in the series – its recurrent themes give it a feeling of familiarity – it is still an entertaining read. Rebus is a fantastic creation and it is great to see him back.

Book Review – EXIT MUSIC (2007) by Ian Rankin

EXIT MUSIC by IAN RANKIN (2007, Orion Books Ltd., Paperback, 460pp) ∗∗∗∗
Blurb: It’s late autumn in Edinburgh and late autumn in the career of DI Rebus. As he tries to tie up some loose ends before retirement, a murder case intrudes. A dissident Russian poet has been found dead in what looks like a mugging gone wrong. By apparent coincidence, a high-level delegation of Russian businessmen is in town – and everyone is determined that the case should be closed quickly and clinically.
      Meanwhile, a brutal and premeditated assault on a local gangster sees Rebus in the frame. Has the inspector taken a step too far in tying up those loose ends? Only a few days shy of the end of his long, inglorious career, will Rebus even make it that far?

cover_exit_musicWhen first published many thought Exit Music would be DI John Rebus’ swansong. Following the lead of his excellent Naming of the Dead, set with a background of the G8 summit, Rankin uses another newsworthy issue as background for this story. The poisoning of Russian dissident Alexander Litvienko in London is referenced on a number of occasions throughout – the timeline of the news story coinciding with events in Rankin’s Edinburgh. Unlike in Naming, the reference is not used to drive the plot. It is used more to pique the curiosity of the protagonists (and the readers) as Rebus looks for a conspiratory answer to the murder of a Russian dissident. This gives Rankin the opportunity to take us on a journey with Rebus’ disdain for authority and politics. There is plenty of opportunity for Rebus to lock horns with Russian diplomats and his own Chief Constable – the latter of which results in a suspension pending his retirement.

The less overt theme, however, is one of coincidence. Not only the coincidence of the murder of two Russian dissidents in separate British cities, but the relationships between the major protagonists, all of whom seem to be interlinked despite their very differing backgrounds. Rankin weaves his plot strands expertly from these threads as they slowly begin to tie together. The conclusion, whilst seeming a little too conveniently tied up on Rebus’ last day with the force, is therefore both logical and satisfying.

Rankin is so comfortable with his characters that the dialogue flows effortlessly and Rebus’ cynicism and dry wit shine through in a naturalistic way, as does his fond mentoring relationship with his successor in waiting, DS Siobhan Clarke. Rankin even manages to mischievously leave us with a cliffhanger suggesting he was not finished with the character, despite the announcement this was to be Rebus’ last case.

Whilst this isn’t the best of the series, it makes for a strong exit and leaves the reader hoping Rebus will return soon – which, of course, he did – albeit five years later.