Even Dogs in the Wild – Ian Rankin

evendogs

Now this is how to write a novel: interesting characters, plot, and pacing, intriguing strands of misdirection, authentic setting, and just enough action and violence to raise the threat level without reaching the gory heights of overkill. And that’s what you get in this book.

For me, reading Even Dogs in the Wild was like settling into old, well worn, and comfortable shoes: there was a sense of familiarity, and relaxation, enhanced by the warm glow of satisfaction. In the book, you might say that the two male leads – Rebus and Fox – are the slippers, because they are, indeed, familiar characters. This time around, Rebus – having retired – is on the outside, but asked back in to help with the case of a lawyer brutally murdered in his own home. From then on, the plot thickens, as the forces of law and order try to work out what is going on, why it’s going on, and who is behind the killing. At the same time, the forces of crime and corruption – Ger Cafferty and Darryl Christie – are dealing with their own investigation, as a Glasgow gang may be about to challenge the Edinburgh crew on their own turf.

The writing is economical, and well crafted. There is never a dull moment. The book delivers on all fronts. Highly recommended.

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Standing in another man’s grave – Ian Rankin

I bought this at the same time as Saints of the shadow bible (reviewed here) but was too lazy to check the chronology, and read Standing in another man’s grave second, when I should have read it first. It made no real difference to my reading pleasure, but if you are venturing anew into Ian Rankin territory, I would recommend trying to read his Rebus books in chronological order.

This book includes initial skirmishes between Malcolm Fox (of Complaints) and Rebus, and adds a slight diversion from the main story: the hunt for a previously undiscovered serial killer. Rebus meets the mother of a young girl who disappeared years before. She tells him there is a link with other disappearances. As Rebus tentatively looks at cold case files, he can see there may, indeed, be such a killer. First he has to convince his bosses (and colleagues). Then he has to find the baddie.

Alongside this, the book features Rebus’ relationships with certain criminal elements, and deftly shows how the interpretation of these relationships can be built on the flimsiest of suppositions. But those relationships, or apparent relationships, can tar Rebus as corrupt, or corruptible. Rebus, who is no fool, knows this. And while at times he screws up in his dealings with the world outside, generally he does a better job of dealing with organized crime. However, whether such dealings are to be admired or otherwise, may be a matter of debate.

As before, Ian Rankin delivers a tightly written book, with solid characters, great plot, decent twists, and sharp, sharp, dialogue. I like the musical references, but they may grate with people with no interest in that topic. (And a couple of times, the dialogue may not quite work without an understanding of the musical references. Nothing fatal.) My time with this book was an absolute joy. It’s not quite as good as Saints of the shadow bible, but only a whisker away. Superb.

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Saints of the shadow bible – Ian Rankin

The last few books I have read have been by authors whose previous novels I had encountered. To differing degrees, their newest output left me with a feeling of them being stuck in a rut: familiar characters, backdrop, and plot, all resulting in less than inspiring reading. So, how is it that Ian Rankin’s latest book – featuring familiar characters, backdrop and plot – seems so fresh and full of life by comparison?

Perhaps the simplest explanation is that the main character, John Rebus, is so well drawn and so realistic. He is neither a superman, nor a super intellect. He is a smart policeman who treads his own path. I find that enticing. Funnily enough, in this book, we not only get more of Rebus’ back story, but we also get him working alongside Malcolm Fox, a central character in another of Rankin’s series. That interaction could have been a disaster, but turns out to be a major attraction to the book.

The story, as usual, is multi-layered. It starts with what looks like a simple road accident, and coincides with Malcolm Fox investigating an old case (of thirty years vintage) that Rebus and his onetime colleagues handled: that of a murder accused who escaped conviction due to police incompetence or dirty tricks. With the law having been changed to allow the trail to be rerun, the investigation is focusing on the actions of the police. Was Rebus involved? What did he know? There are many questions, and asking them sets off different reactions.

Rankin works in to his book the Scottish independence referendum, the changing face of Scottish policing, and several other contemporary references. But they do not obscure the fine characterization, and the sharp dialogue. Rankin is a sort of Elmore Leonard variant, where the conversations drive much of the plot, and deliver a lot of the atmosphere. There are some moments of dark humor in the exchanges between Rebus and the world he inhabits.

This is a beautifully crafted book, by an author working at the top of his trade. If you have any interest in crime fiction, you should read this. No book is perfect, but this comes close. Terrific.

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