BLACK AND BLUE by IAN RANKIN (1997, Orion, 498pp) ****½
Blurb: In the 1960s, the infamous Bible John terrorised Scotland when he murdered three women, taking three souvenirs. Thirty years later, a copycat is at work, dubbed Johnny Bible. DI John Rebus’s unconventional methods have got him in trouble before – now he’s taken away from the inquiry and sent to investigate the killing of an off-duty oilman. But when his case clashes head-on with the Johnny Bible killings, he finds himself in the glare of a fearful media, whilst under the scrutiny of an internal enquiry. Just one mistake is likely to mean losing his job – and quite possibly his life.
Ian Rankin had written seven Rebus novels before Black and Blue and had become an established name in the crime-writing field, but was seen as more of a B-list writer. This book exploded him into the A-list, where he has stayed ever since. In his introduction to this 2016 edition, Rankin recalls the personal turmoil he was going through at the time of writing. Living in France with a son diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome, the writer and his wife struggled with the bureaucracy of the French medical system. The family would eventually return to Scotland. The impression this left on Rankin fired his need to voice his concerns on a broader template. Also, around the time of writing the book, press interest in the historic Bible John killings had been heightened by new DNA evidence. Rankin had undertaken extensive research into the case and decided to incorporate a real life killer into his fictional story of a copy cat. Other elements incorporated into the story are police and corporate corruption, environmentalists protesting about pollution caused by the oil companies and a drug smuggling involving gangsters from Glasgow and Aberdeen. It was to become Rankin’s most complex and multi-layered book.
Rankin explores his protagonist in deep detail – his loyalty, his alcohol dependency, his inner-angst. What emerges is a very three-dimensional portrayal of a flawed man whose sole motivation in life is to see justice done. Saddled with a former colleague, whilst he is being investigated for malpractice in an old case, Rebus is as acerbic and dogged as ever. A loner tethered to a leash, which brings his anxieties to the surface. The book has a broad scope taking Rebus from Edinburgh to Glasgow, Aberdeen, the Shetlands and a North Sea oil rig. The separate plot strands are nicely interwoven revealing some surprising links along the way. Rankin’s research helps bring the locales and the police investigation to life in an enthralling way.
Black and Blue is a novel that shows a writer fully maturing and it would set the bar for the remainder of the series.
The Rebus Series:
- Knots and Crosses (1987) ***
- Hide and Seek (1991) ***
- Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992) ***
- Strip Jack (1992)
- The Black Book (1993) ***
- Mortal Causes (1994) ***
- Let it Bleed (1996)
- Black and Blue (1997) ****½
- The Hanging Garden (1998) ****
- Dead Souls (1999)
- Set in Darkness (2000) ****
- The Falls (2001)
- Resurrection Men (2002) ****
- A Question of Blood (2003) ****
- Fleshmarket Close (2004) ****
- The Naming of the Dead (2006) ****½
- Exit Music (2007) ****
- Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012) ∗∗∗½
- Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013) ***
- Even Dogs in the Wild (2015) ****
- Rather Be the Devil (2016) ***½
- In a House of Lies (2018)
AN OBVIOUS FACT by CRAIG JOHNSON (2016; Penguin; 318pp) ***
Blurb: In the midst of the largest motorcycle rally in the world, a young biker is run off the road and ends up in critical condition. When Sheriff Walt Longmire and his good friend Henry Standing Bear are called to Hulett, Wyoming—the nearest town to America’s first national monument, Devils Tower—to investigate, things start getting complicated. As competing biker gangs; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; a military-grade vehicle donated to the tiny local police force by a wealthy entrepreneur; and Lola, the real-life femme fatale and namesake for Henry’s ’59 Thunderbird (and, by extension, Walt’s granddaughter) come into play, it rapidly becomes clear that there is more to get to the bottom of at this year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally than a bike accident. After all, in the words of Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Adventures of Sherlock Holmes the Bear won’t stop quoting, ”There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”
The twelfth novel in Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series is an entertaining read, but shows signs of complacency setting in. Johnson writes engaging characters and witty dialogue, but there is something a little blase about the way they go about their business in this story. The humour is turned up and the thrills turned down and everything feels a little comfortable. The mystery itself isn’t as engaging as the plots in earlier books either. and the whole thing is wrapped up rather conveniently in the epilogue. That said I was never bored and this is probably the fastest and easiest read in the series – the novellas and short stories excepted – just not very challenging. Hopefully, this is not the beginning of a downward turn and The thirteenth novel, The Western Star, will be a return to form.
The Walt Longmire Series:
The Cold Dish (2004) ****
Death Without Company (2006) ****
Kindness Goes Unpunished (2007) ****
Another Man’s Moccasins (2009) ****
The Dark Horse (2010) ****
Junkyard Dogs (2010) *****
Hell is Empty (2011) ****
As the Crow Flies (2012) ****
A Serpent’s Tooth (2013) ****
Spirit of Steamboat (2013 – novella) ****
Any Other Name (2014) ****½
Wait for Signs: Twelve Longmire Stories (2014 – short story collection) ****
Dry Bones (2015) ****
The Highwayman (2016 – novella) ***½
An Obvious Fact (2016) ***
The Western Star (2017)
THE LATE SHOW by MICHAEL CONNELLY (2017; Orion; 424pp) ***½
Blurb: Detective Renée Ballard works ‘The Late Show’, the notorious graveyard shift at the LAPD. It’s thankless work for a once-promising detective, keeping strange hours in a twilight world of crime. Some nights are worse than others. And tonight is the worst yet. Two shocking cases, hours apart: a brutal assault, and a multiple murder with no suspects. Ballard knows it is always darkest before dawn. But what she doesn’t know – yet – is how deep her investigation will take her into the dark heart of her city, the police department and her own past…
Michael Connelly has established a reputation as one of the great modern crime thriller writers – notably for his series featuring LAPD detective Harry Bosch. Here he introduces us to a new female detective hero in Renée Ballard. Ballard is a well-sketched character and a dedicated detective with emotional baggage – a seeming requisite for the modern detective. Her debut novel, The Late Show, is also set in LA and follows a similar police procedural pattern, mixing meticulous exposition of investigative techniques with the more conventional excitements of the modern-day thriller. The result is a solid mystery. The story is slow to get going, but picks up around the half-way mark as Connelly unravels the plot utilising techniques such as increasingly shortening chapters, to quicken the pace. Connelly’s experience as a former police reporter means he is very knowledgeable of police procedure and he displays that knowledge throughout the novel. But Connelly is also a craftsman, who deftly works in sufficient clues for the reader without giving the game away too early. The Late Show is therefore a satisfying, if familiar, read which serves to demonstrate Connelly’s skills without really stretching them.
Shetland – Series 4 (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 6 x 60m) **** pr. Eric Coulter; d. Lee Haven Jones, Rebecca Gatward; w. David Kane, Louise Ironside, Paul Logue; ph. Ed Moore, Michael Coulter; m. John Lunn. Cast: Douglas Henshall, Alison O’Donnell, Steven Robertson, Mark Bonnar, Julie Graham, Erin Armstrong, Lewis Howden, Stephen Walters, Neve McIntosh, Sean McGinley, Fiona Bell, Allison McKenzie, Amy Lennox, Sophie Stone, Gerard Miller, Eleanor Matsuura, Carolin Stoltz, Arnmundur Bjornsson. Perez (Henshall) and the team are forced to re-open a twenty-three year old cold case when convicted murder, Thomas Malone (Walters), is released from prison. The case concerns teenager Lizzie Kilmuir, who was found strangled to death on a kiln. Upon returning to Shetland, Thomas tries to make amends with Lizzie’s elder sister, Kate (McIntosh). Meanwhile, local journalist Sally McColl (Lennox) attends the Shetland Folk Festival with a group of her friends, but doesn’t return home later that evening. The next day, she is found strangled to death on a kiln, in what looks like a copycat of Lizzie’s murder. Top-class mystery with a bleak, isolated setting adding to the atmosphere. A strong cast – notably Henshall as the dedicated detective and Walters as the psychologically damaged, but misunderstood, convict – deliver earnest performances. Despite the length of the drama there is little flab in the plotting, which winds its way to a satisfying and tense conclusion. Based on the characters created by Ann Cleeves. 
Strike: Career of Evil (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 2 x 60m) **** pr. Jackie Larkin; d. Charles Sturridge; w. Tom Edge; ph. Maja Zamojda; m. Adrian Johnston. Cast: Tom Burke, Holliday Grainger, Kerr Logan, Killian Scott, Ben Crompton, Andrew Brooke, Emmanuella Cole, Jessica Gunning, Matt King, Neil Maskell, Kierston Wareing. At the office, Robin receives a package and is horrified to discover it contains a woman’s severed leg. Strike draws up a list of suspects who have vendettas against him. Third in the Strike series is the most confident adaptation. Burke and Grainger (as Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott) have really settled into their roles and the plot allows room for development of the mystery alongside the progression of Robyn’s story. Loses a little bit of momentum in its second-part, but it is still a gorgeously shot and satisfying mystery. Based on the novel by J.K. Rowling (as Robert Galbraith). 
THE INNOCENTS by ACE ATKINS (2016, Corasir, 372pp) ***½
Blurb: After being voted out of office and returning to the war zone he’d left behind, Quinn Colson is back in Jericho, trying to fix things with his still-married high school girlfriend and retired Hollywood stuntman father. Quinn knows he doesn’t owe his hometown a damn thing, but he can’t resist the pull of becoming a lawman again and accepts a badge from his former colleague, foul-mouthed acting Sheriff Lillie Virgil. Both officers have fought corruption in Tibbehah County before, but the case they must confront now is nothing like they’ve ever seen. When a former high school cheerleader is found walking a back road completely engulfed in flames, everyone in Jericho wants answers for the senseless act of violence. As Quinn and Lillie uncover old secrets and new lies, the entire town turns against them, and they soon learn that the most dangerous enemies may be the ones you trust most.
This is the sixth book in Ace Atkins’ series featuring Sheriff Quinn Colson set in the small county of Tibbehah. Atkins continues to produce quality writing, notably in character and dialogue echoing one of his heroes – Elmore Leonard. The plot itself is familiar, but does introduce a shock element in its closing chapters. There is also the ongoing arc surrounding Quinn’s family and his love life. These sub-plots remain unresolved at the novel’s conclusion compelling the reader to return for the next volume. Also unresolved is the set up of a new adversary in the form of Fannie Hathcock, who has taken over as the owner of the strip bar from the imprisoned Johnny Stagg. She establishes an antagonistic relationship with Lillie Virgil from the off, as the similarities in their personalities initially cause a clash, but ultimately creates a way they can be of mutual benefit. Whilst this novel is familiar to those who have read earlier books in the series, it is still an entertaining read and the unresolved arcs leave a hook to pull you in to the next adventure.
The Quinn Colson series:
The Ranger (2011) ***
The Lost Ones (2012) ***
The Broken Place (2013) ***
The Forsaken (2014) ***½
The Redeemers (2015) ****
The Innocents (2016) ***½
The Fallen (2017)
The Sinners (2018)
Blood Work (2002; USA; Technicolor; 110m) *** d. Clint Eastwood; w. Brian Helgeland; ph. Tom Stern; m. Lennie Niehaus. Cast: Clint Eastwood, Jeff Daniels, Anjelica Huston, Wanda De Jesus, Tina Lifford, Paul Rodriguez, Dylan Walsh, Mason Lucero, Gerry Becker, Rick Hoffman, Alix Koromzay, Igor Jijikine, June Kyoto Lu, Dina Eastwood, Beverly Leech. Still recovering from a heart transplant, a retired FBI profiler returns to service when his own blood analysis offers clues to the identity of a serial killer. Interesting premise is occasionally undone by lapses in logic and the routine nature of the production. Eastwood is as charismatic as ever in the lead role, but as director fails to inject sufficient suspense. The strongest moments are the character conflicts. It remains an entertaining enough and serviceable mystery despite its flaws. Based on the novel by Michael Connelly. 
INVISIBLE DEAD by SAM WIEBE (2016, Quercus, 342pp) ***½
Blurb: An ex-cop who navigates by a moral compass stubbornly jammed at true north, Dave Wakeland is a talented private investigator with next to zero business sense. And even though he finds himself with a fancy new office and a corporate-minded partner, he continues to be drawn to cases that are usually impossible to solve and frequently don’t pay. When Wakeland is hired by a terminally ill woman to discover the whereabouts of her adopted child-who disappeared as an adult more than a decade earlier-it seems like just another in a string of poor career decisions. But it turns out this case is worse than usual, even by his standards. With only an anonymous and vaguely worded tip to guide him, Wakeland interviews an imprisoned serial killer who seems to know nothing about the case, but who nonetheless steers him toward Vancouver’s terrifying criminal underworld. And it all goes downhill from there. Whatever ghosts drive Wakeland, they seem to drive him inexorably toward danger-a journey he’s content to take so long as it means finding out what happened to someone the rest of the world seems happy enough to forget. With nothing to protect him but his wit and his empathy for the downtrodden and disenfranchised, Wakeland is on the case.
Whilst there are occasional affectionate nods to its pulp fiction roots, this is a thoroughly modern take on the first-person private eye mystery. Here the case surrounds the search for a girl who has been missing for ten years, having been estranged from her family after being sucked into a life of drugs and prostitution. Wiebe’s view of this sleazy world is a nasty and violent one populated with self-satisfying characters who you would not want to meet on the dark streets. Throughout this, the writer manages to keep Wakeland a likeable hero – seemingly the only character in the book with a moral compass – and it is his observations that keep the book readable through to its inevitable conclusion. It is not for the faint-hearted – there are a number of unpleasant sequences, which may suggest Wiebe is trying too hard to shock at times. But it may also be that he is merely trying to de-glamorise the legacy he also pays homage to.
Wind River (2017; USA/UK/Canada; Colour; 107m) ***½ d. Taylor Sheridan; w. Taylor Sheridan; ph. Ben Richardson; m. Warren Ellis. Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner, Jon Bernthal, Julia Jones, Matthew Del Negro, Kelsey Asbille, Gil Birmingham, Ian Bohen, Martin Sensmeier, Hugh Dillon, Eric Lange, Mason D. Davis, James Jordan, Teo Briones, Tara Karsian. A female FBI agent and a veteran game tracker investigate the circumstances surrounding the discovery of a dead woman on a Native American reservation. Leisurely-paced and well-written character-driven mystery retains interest throughout due to the compelling performances of the leads and the beautiful, but unforgiving snow-filled Wyoming location. 
Long Goodbye, The (1973; USA; Technicolor; 112m) *** d. Robert Altman; w. Leigh Brackett; ph. Vilmos Zsigmond; m. John Williams. Cast: Elliott Gould, Nina Van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Mark Rydell, Henry Gibson, David Arkin, Jim Bouton, Warren Berlinger, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rutanya Alda, Jo Ann Brody, Vincent Palmieri, Pancho Cordova, Enrique Lucero, George Wyner. Detective Philip Marlowe tries to help a friend who is accused of murdering his wife. Altman re-imagines Raymond Chandler’s classic novel in a contemporary setting with Gould portraying Marlowe as a detective out-of-his time. The gimmick allows Altman to pass comment on the degradation of society and the values of life, but in doing so he sucks the power from Chandler’s original story. There are some nice directorial touches and improvised set-pieces, but this will ultimately only fully please those fully attuned to the director’s surreal vision. Schwarzenegger, who plays a bodyguard, has no lines in the film.