Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Naming of the Dead

I had a cold last week and it was one of those annoying ones where every time you try to do something your nose starts to drip.  So you clear it, and it drips again.  In the end I decided to spend most of one day in bed, and we found one of the Ian Rankin stories I hadn't read as an audio book on the laptop.  It was The Naming of the Dead, which came out in 2006, and is set in 2005, in the tumultuous week in Edinburgh and the surrounding area when the Gleneagles G8 Conference was taking place.  Add to that, at a later point in the story, the London Underground bombings, and you have a canvas broad enough on which to spread marches with people numbering in the hundreds of thousands, activist attacks, insurrections and a city full of policemen from all over the country keeping order and containing people who want to do damage to somebody. With this as his background, Rankin then proceeds to offer up a man falling from the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle - is it a suicide, an accident, or a murder? - as well as three murders that are seemingly related to each other: they may indicate a serial killer is on the loose, someone who appears to be working through a list of known rapists or sexual attackers.  Or they may not!

Rebus is the star of the show, as you'd expect, though not in the eyes of several of the other characters, and his accomplice in detective discovery is again Siobhan Clarke, who more than once frets that she'd becoming too much like her mentor, for better or worse.  Like Rebus, she finds it hard to leave well alone, or to work anything like the normal 9-5 hours.  Her parents have a big part to play in the story too, being hippies from way back, people who want to protest at what the G8 are doing.  Big Ger Cafferty returns as well, adding to the mix, stirring up trouble wherever he can, and there is a wide range of other characters, good, bad and devious.  This is a classic Rankin, in which he uses his skill to paint a detailed picture of a city in siege while at the same time giving us a superb detective story.  And better still, the murderer is someone who appears throughout the story but doesn't seem to be in the least likely to be a suspect until late in the book.  This is in marked contrast to the most recent Rebus story, where the murderer seemed to be invisible for most of the time.

I listened to what I thought was almost all of the book, got up the next day intending to listen to the rest - about an hour and half's worth - came to the end of that and found that the book wasn't even half finished.  We had a copy on the shelves that I'd never got round to reading - we also had the rest of the audio book on the laptop as it turned out, but it was in another different folder.  So I was swamped for choice.

Scottish actor, Tom Cotcher
The narrator on the audio book version is Tom Cotcher (as far as I can tell; I haven't got the cover of the CD to hand).  He's narrated a number of the Rebus books and does a superb job with the characterizations of a large cast.  I probably should have allowed myself the time to listen to the rest of the book instead of reading it, but it would have taken me at least another full day to do so, whereas I could fit the reading of it in much more productively around other things.  This is the only problem for me with audio books: I find it hard to just sit and listen to one - I want to be doing something else at the same time.  They're great when you're on a long journey (we listened to a non-Rebus Rankin book - Watchmen - earlier in the year in this way), or when your body just doesn't want to do, or can't manage to do, anything else at all; when you've got a heavy cold, in other words.  And there's always the issue, when you're in bed listening, that you might fall asleep and miss something - this doesn't tend to happen when I'm listening in the car!

Watchmen is one of Rankin's one-off stories.  As far as I know the characters don't appear in any other book.  It's a curious piece about a kind of behind-the-scenes department that's dealing with espionage and such, but the characters in the story seem as much intent on double-crossing their colleagues as attending to their proper business.  It's set in both London and Ireland, and the main character is as unlike Rebus as you can imagine.  A desk-job man, essentially, but forced out into the field, and forced to find courage and initiative he wasn't always aware he had.  He does share with Rebus a certain amount of lack of respect for authority, and a difficulty with his marriage and his student son (though he fares better than Rebus in both these areas), but otherwise he's his own man.

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