Saturday, January 03, 2009

Rankin and Rebus


At one point we read nothing but Ian Rankin while we were travelling on the Continent in 2007 and then when we got back to the UK. By the time we left for NZ, in December that year, we’d acquired a bunch of his books and had them sent home. They arrived some months later, by which time we were no longer quite so enthused about the author. We’d probably done our dash for a while as far as the gloomy main character, John Rebus, and his even gloomier Edinburgh, were concerned.
However, in the last few weeks, I’ve gone back to reading Rankin again. The books are as gloomy as ever, the sun seldom shines in Edinburgh and Rebus still smokes and drinks like there’s no tomorrow. But they’re almost un-put-downable.
Part of the reason for the return is that I picked up a collection of Rankin’s short stories at a secondhand bookshop just along from where I work. These proved to be even more bitter and twisted, in some cases, than the Rebus books – although there are some Rebus stories amongst the batch, including one longer one that’s a short version of one of the novels, with some identical scenes and dialogue, but a completely different ending.
And then, as ‘light’ relief from some other stuff I was reading, I got into Strip Jack, one of the ones we’d bought in England (I seem to remember it was one of four we got new at a bargain price in a charity shop in Sheringham).
And today I’ve just finished Knots and Crosses, Rankin’s first foray into the world of Rebus, way back in 1985. It was intended to be a one-off story about Rebus, but obviously the character wasn’t willing to sit back and retire. This story doesn’t quite have the sharpness of Rankin’s later work, and the story is a bit derivative of other authors in the same genre, but Rebus is there in full force all the same. The only thing lacking, perhaps, is the sardonic sense of humour.
Knots and Crosses isn’t one of the ones we bought in England, as it happens. It turned up amongst a bunch of books from the ODT – books that were sent in by their publishers for review, but which were eventually handed out, for one reason or another, as ‘Christmas reading’ for the reviewers. Perhaps the book editor thought that Rankin and Rebus hardly needed a review of a reissue of a book that was nearly a quarter of a century old from a writer who’s work is so popular no review will make the slightest difference to his sales.
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