My road to discovering Ian Rankin wasn’t a short one. Having received two of his novels as a gift from an English friend more than a year ago, I hesitated until recently, the unusual thickness of the volumes putting me off. Then I went through my collection again and found the third book by the same author – a collection of short stories named “A Good Hanging”. I put all three books together on the shelf – and this holiday season decided to try them finally, since all my fellow detective story lovers seemed to regard Ian Rankin as one of the masters of the genre.
“A Good Hanging” disappointed me at first – most stories were too predictable. So I put it aside and took “Black & Blue”.
Inspector Rebus of the novel seemed different from Inspector Rebus of the short stories – gloomier, more depressed and with more uncontrolled temper. Older too – and having troubles at work. But the plot was interesting, so the book grabbed me instantly. Once started, I had to finish it.
Two serial killers – one from the old days and another one new. A mysterious corpse tied to a chair. A local Mafia Godfather keeping the police in his pocket. A gang of drug dealers. And on top of this, an internal investigation aimed at establishing the degree of Rebus’s own guilt in an apparent case of miscarriage of justice – another old story. Rebus has to face it all – nearly alone. The situation seems hopeless, and I soon get lost in the complicated chain of crimes.
But Rebus is hard to discourage. Where another, less motivated (or more common sense) person would give up, he just has another drink (or cigarette)… then more – and then keeps stubbornly walking his way, no matter what the price might be. And finally – against all odds – he wins. Most of the criminals murder each other anyway, before the police can get at them – those who remain are Rebus’s Rubai internetu prize. Friends no longer turn into enemies – but some former enemies become new friends. The only disappointment – the most sinister villain of all escapes, squeezing himself at the last moment through Rebus’s fingers… but we can’t have it our way always.
Did I like Inspector Rebus? Hard to tell. He drinks, smokes and swears all the time – not exactly my idea of a nice guy – bends the rules as he sees fit, has endless fits of temper and sometimes behaves like a fool. Stubborn, too – my way or the highway type. I don’t think I’d like such a friend – but I admire him all the same. His intuition is only short of psychic abilities, and he is a very sympathetic person, struggling to help everyone at once even when he himself needs help most of all.
Did I like the book? Yes, I did. It’s not exactly my favourite kind of a detective story – I prefer Agatha Christie style: all important clues are there, the readers just can’t see them – and then everything turns around coming to the most unexpected end… and you wonder how you couldn’t see it yourself, when the truth stared you in the face all the time. There’s nothing of this kind in “Black & Blue”. If Rankin wants his readers to know something in advance, he tells them – otherwise, the clues remain hidden until the vital moment. His books are about action – not thinking, that’s left for Rebus to do. Rebus is good at it though – extremely good. Amazing, considering the amount of booze he usually consumes within a day.
Actually, nearer the end of the book he goes teetotal, but since I’ve already started another novel about him, I know it isn’t for long He is a loner though – married to his work – so who cares? As long as he wins at the end and gets ’em all, so be it.