Fleshmarket Alley by Ian Rankin: Rebus finds himself in his most tangled case yet

Fleshmarket AlleyFleshmarket Alley / Fleshmarket Close

by Ian RankinSeries: John Rebus, #15

Hardcover, 420 pg.
Little, Brown and Company, 2005
Read: May 18 – 23, 2018

           Rebus had never seen children in a mortuary before, and the sight of« fended him. This was a place for professionals, for adults, for the widowed. It was a place for unwelcome truths about the human body. It was the antithesis of childhood.

Then again, what was childhood to the Yurgii children but confusion and desperation?

Which didn’t stop Rebus pinning one of the guards to the wall. physically, of course, not using his hands. But by dint of placing himself: an intimidating proximity to the man and then inching forward, until the guard had his back to the wall of the waiting area.

“You brought kids here?” Rebus spat.

This — even by Rebus’ standards — is a dark book, but we keep finding Rebus pushing back against it. It actually almost seems against his character — the cynicism and pessimism that is so definitive of him seems frequently absent. That’s not a bad thing — it’s just a little strange when you stop and think about it. Of course, there’s an easy line to draw between idealism and cynicism, and Rebus has always been an absolutist about justice — and doesn’t let much stand in his way to pursue it. This time there’s a lot more injustice that he seems to be targeting. Something about this murder that has gotten under his skin.

Maybe it’s because he knows it could be one of the last cases he’s involved in — St. Leonard’s has been reorganized and no longer has a CID, so the detectives have been reassigned throughout the city. He and Clarke were sent somewhere that reminds them on a regular basis that they’re not welcome — Rebus doesn’t even get a desk. The message is clear: he should retire. Fat chance of that happening while he can say anything about it.

Which leads to Rebus jumping in to help some old friends investigate the what appears to be a race-based murder, which ends up opening up a tangled web of crimes in so many circles it’s difficult to summarize (I deleted a couple of attempts to do that because they ended up undreadable) while staying spoiler-free. Just know that pretty much everywhere Rebus goes, he’s going to find something else that’s very, very wrong. The more Rebus learns about the victim — and his life — the less likely the fact that he’s Kurdish seems to play in his killing, but it’s inescapable — the press, other police, and every one he talks to about the case won’t stop bringing it up. It’s easier for everyone when first impressions are right, but when you can’t make the facts fit the narrative, you’d better have a detective like John Rebus around to actually get somewhere.

Siobhan meanwhile, gets involved in a couple of things that aren’t really cases but end up dragging her into one. First, she starts doing a favor for a couple she knew years ago when their daughter was raped and later committed suicide. Now their younger daughter has gone missing and they fear the worst. Also, there’s a couple of skeletons uncovered in Fleshmarket Alley that have an interesting story to tell. One thing leads to another and Siobhan becomes involved in a murder investigation that while not connected to Rebus’ keeps the two of them brushing into one another at interesting points.

We also get to see Big Ger for a few minutes, and isn’t that always fun?

There’s some odd tension between Rebus and Siobhan in these pages — something that feels natural, organic. They’re not as static as Spenser and Hawk (for one bad example), with differing goals, aspirations, etc. It’s good to see this dimension to their relationship, really. It makes be believe in them more.

Dark, tangled, well-paced, oddly timely for something written over a decade ago, and so wonderfully constructed that you really can’t believe it when all the pieces start to fall in place. Fleshmarket Alley/Close is just one more bit of evidence that Ian Rankin is a master of his craft.

—–

4 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge

Advertisements

A Question of Blood by Ian Rankin: Rebus Deals with Gun Violence on Multiple Fronts

A Question of BloodA Question of Blood

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #14

Hardcover, 406 pg.
Little, Brown and Company, 2003

Read: April 19 – 21, 2018


I’m torn between quotations to open with, on the one hand, you have this one which captures the environment this novel takes place in — it’s a perfect encapsulation of the frustration of so many civilians. Particularly the ones in the town near the focal crime.

Fear: the crucial word. Most people would live their whole lives untouched by crime, yet they still feared it, and that fear was real and smothering. The police force existed to allay such fears, yet too often was shown to be fallible, powerless, on hand only after the event, clearing up the mess rather than preventing it.

On the other hand, this seems to be the perfect encapsulation of the sentiments of Rebus, Clarke, Hogan and so many (most?) of the police in this novel (and most police novels in general):

He checked the radio to see if anything bearable was being broadcast, but all he could find were rap and dance. There was a tape in the player, but it was Rory Gallagher, Jinx, and he wasn’t in the mood. Seemed to remember one of the tracks was called “The Devil Made Me Do It.” Not much of a defense these days, but plenty of others had come along in Old Nick‘s place. No such thing as an inexplicable crime, not now that there were scientists and psychologists who’d talk about genes and abuse, brain damage and peer pressure. Always a reason . . . always, it seemed, an excuse.

So the story is, an ex-SAS soldier walks in to a school, shoots three students and then kills himself. One of the students — the son of a local politician — survives. His dad sees this crime as an opportunity to get himself out of some PR trouble and some prominence — so he keeps popping up in inopportune places to grandstand and shine a negative light on the police. Which goes a long way to make a complicated situation worse for Bobby Hogan — the detective running the investigation. There’s not much to investigate, the only surviving witness has told his story, the culprit is dead — but there’s a lot of why questions floating around, Hogan’s got to try to answer some of them. Hogan knows two things: 1. His friend John Rebus was almost an SAS soldier, so he might understand the mindset of this man better than the rest, and 2. Rebus could use an excuse to get out of Edinburgh for a few days. The Army’s in town, doing what it can to shape the narrative — i.e. “this isn’t the way we train our men to be, maybe there’s something else going on.” Hogan’s having trouble getting anywhere, the press isn’t helping, and the evidence isn’t doing wonders for anyone at all.

I liked the fact that we’re dealing with Rebus’s military past again — it’s largely been untouched (at least to any real depth) since Knots & Crosses, and conversations between Rebus and Clarke show that he hasn’t talked to her about it at all. As much as the first book might have helped Rebus deal with some of what happened to him, it’s clear that there’s more t do. Hopefully, this is the start of it — at least to help him.

The more this crime is investigated, the less it looks as cut-and-dry as it was at the beginning. This was all wonderfully constructed, a strong multi-layered story that’ll keep the reader glued to the action to find out what happened (or why it happened). And it’s really not the best part of the novel — it could’ve been, easily. But no.

The reason that Rebus could use a few days away from home base is that he has a mysterious injury. One that could have a completely innocent explanation — or one that puts him at the center of a suspicious death investigation. There’s this creep who’s been stalking Clarke, threatening her. Rebus is seen at a bar with him one night, and the next day, he’s dead and Rebus is getting medical care that suggests he could have been present at the time of death. Clarke and Hogan believe him because he says he didn’t do it. Good ol’ Gill Templar isn’t sure (raising the question: who knows him best? Siobhan or Gill?), and frankly, none of Rebus’ legion of enemies in the police or press are less sure than Templar. There’s a little question about letting Siobhan fight her own battles rather than take the avuncular and/or misogynistic approach of helping her. The two get past that pretty quickly, but Clarke harbors a doubt or two about Rebus’ involvement.

Rebus, actually, wasn’t that concerned with protecting Clarke — he just used that situation to help him with another investigation. Which is typical of him. It’s this last story that’s really — in a way — the center of the whole novel. The events investigated, the motives for a lot of it, and the emotional core are all tied (at the very least) to this story. Rankin’s structuring of the novel in this way shows him at his best. And that’s really all I can say without ruining the experience for anyone (in fact, I arguably said too much).

Then there’s the last chapter == which is all I’m going to say about it — I’m torn. On the one hand, it seems to undercut a lot of the emotional weight of the climactic moments. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t believable. It’s probably more believable than the alternative. Still .. . it left me dissatisfied. On the other hand, Rankin seems to be setting us up to revisit many of these characters in the future. I bet that’ll be worth it.

It’s hard to come up with things to talk about in a series that’s 14 books-old. It’s got to be hard to come up with things to talk about with a character that’s 14 books-old. Which might be part of the reason that Rankin circled back for another look at the end of Rebus’ time with the SAS, which definitely could use another look. How he did it — and the situations the characters found themselves in regarding that case,and all the others going on — is what makes Ian Rankin the modern legend that he is. A Question of Blood is one of those books that improves, the more you think about it.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

Resurrection Men by Ian Rankin

Resurrection MenResurrection Men

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #13

Hardcover, 436 pg.
Little Brown and Company, 2002

Read: Rebruary 26 – 27, 2018

Another ghost in need of justice. Rebus had confessed to her once, after too many late-night drinks in the Oxford Bar, that he saw ghosts. Or didn’t see them so much as sense them. All the cases, the innocent — and not so innocent — victims . . . all those lives turned into CID files . . . They were always more than that to him. He’d seemed to see it as a failing, but Siobhan hadn’t agreed.

We wouldn’t be human if they didn’t get to us, she’d told him. His look had stilled her with its cynicism, as if he were saying that “human” was the one thing they weren’t supposed to be.

Thanks to sickness, a little bit of travel, and general increased busy-ness in my non-blog life, I almost missed my monthly check-in with John Rebus. Thankfully, for my Bookish-OCD, I made it just in time. Even better? This was one of the best in the series.

Rebus’ drinking and displeasure at Gill Templar’s handling of a murder investigation results in him being sent back to school. Literally. There’s a “retraining” course at the Police College for long-serving officers with discipline problems — sort of a last chance before the end of the road. These detectives are pretty similar, they’ve (mostly) been at this for years and aren’t going to change, no matter what happens in the course. Most of them know each other by reputation, Rebus is well-known, apparently — and he knows another classmate by reputation, he’s “the Glasgow Rebus.” After some counseling sessions, and some class lectures, the detectives are given a cold case to work to help learn something about teamwork. A couple of the detectives were associated with the original investigation in Glasgow, and even Rebus brushed up against it in Edinburgh. It’s not so clear how much teamwork is being learned, it’s clear that there are people who know things about the case that aren’t in the files — and they’re not sharing.

There is something about the case that could involve Big Ger, so guess who gets volunteered to talk to him? Rebus is not the only one talking to Cafferty, Siobhan Clarke (now a DS) has a couple of conversations with him. Watching Cafferty try to treat the two of the similarly, with different results, was quite entertaining — Clarke reacts to him differently than Rebus, but she doesn’t take the same angle with him that I think most would. I look forward to seeing the two of them lock horns in the future.

Speaking of Siobhan — never call her Shiv, by the way — once again, she threatened to take over the book for the first half or so. Rebus’ drinking with the other problem police and their cold case just didn’t grab my attention at first. But Siobhan’s dealing with the investigation — without her mentor to bounce ideas off of — and the various and sundry male detectives around her. Some of which work with her just fine, others . . . not so much — at the end of the day, DS Clarke is the one who puts the case together, and in a pretty compelling way. Did I enjoy things a little bit more when Rebus came along to interact with a bit? Yeah, but it wasn’t necessary. I also like the way that Rebus and Templar were the ones (along with Siobhan herself) noticing her doing things like Rebus this time, not just other police. He’s clearly left his stamp on her — for good or ill, the trick is watching her approach things the way he would, but remaining her own person. Which she has so far — and, I bet, will continue to do so.

But this is a Rebus novel, at the end of the day, and he does get the better material — as I mentioned, he interacts with Siobhan some because he and the others come to Edinburgh to follow a pretty shaky lead (mostly, it’s an excuse to get away from the college and drink somewhere else). Around this point, that storyline became more intriguing — and it did end up being the better part of the novel.

No one will ever say that the Rebus novels are a fun romp, but there was something about Rankin’s writing in Resurrection Men that seemed darker than usual — not a darkness because of violence or anything, just in the telling. Everything seemed worse, everything seemed sinister — it’s hard to put my finger on it exactly, but there was something grim going on. Yeah, I laughed a couple of times, smiled more often than that, but overall, the noir in this book was blacker. We see areas of Rebus’ psyche we haven’t seen much of before — ditto for Clarke — we also get some good Rebus/Cafferty backstory.

The structure of this novel is the real star — it was just perfect — we get a couple of mysteries to watch our detectives solve, plus a couple of other things go on. It even seems like Rankin doles out the information in an unusual way, only telling us what we need to know when we need to know it — there are times when we’re more in the dark than Rebus because he’s hiding the information from his fellow Last-Chancers and us (what does that say about Rankin’s readers?), but it works — this isn’t a case of a mystery writer cheating, it’s a deliberate attempt to build suspense. Complex without being complicated, brilliantly plotted but not in a way that feels totally organic. At a certain point, the way that all the storylines end up seem inevitable (even when you’re still not sure who the various killers are going to be), yet you’re surprised when the inevitable happens. But along the way, each step in the stories, each reveal, each development catches you off guard. Just fantastic structure to the book.

I thought it was strange that Rankin started this one off (I’m guessing for the American edition only) with a little description of the Scottish Police’s organization and rankings, which was nice (but most readers can figure it out on their own). Also included was a list of the cast of characters — organized by storyline. That was helpful, too. Unnecessary, but very nice. I’m not sure why these were used, but I’ll take them.

This one checked almost every one of my boxes — at least once, and never didn’t hold my interest. Rankin clearly knows what he’s doing and you should read this one — and the twelve before it.

—–

5 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge

The Falls by Ian Rankin

The FallsThe Falls

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #12

Hardcover, 395 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2001

Read: January 15 – 16, 2018

If anyone can do it, John, you can. I’ve always had confidence in your sheer pig-headedness and inability to listen to your senior officers.

After the last few novels which were characterized by several interlocking stories, The Falls centers on the disappearance of a young woman — Philippa Balfour. Flip is the daughter of an important banker, a student of sorts, and frequently the girlfriend of one of the least appealing young men you’ve met lately. She never showed up for a night of drinking with friends and her father’s influence got the police involved much more quickly than they would have otherwise. There are few that hold out much hope for a happy resolution to this case, but until a body shows up, that’s how they have to proceed.

Now, just because I said there’s only one case at the core of this book, that doesn’t mean it’s just one story. There’s the typical investigation, undertaken by a large number of detectives and under media scrutiny. Then there’s something that catches Rebus’ eye, which leads him on one path. Siobhan Clarke finds another loose strand to pull at, and uses much of her off-the-clock time following that. The two are aware of what the other is doing, but neither is all that interested in it. Readers, of course, know that one or both of them are going to make more progress than the rest of the Force and can just enjoy watching them.

That’s the strength of this book — Rebus finds some evidence that might tie this crime to others throughout Scotland over the past few decades. He clearly specializes in historical investigations, and it’s clearly a good idea for him to go down that path. Siobhan’s got a more tech-savvy take on it (and she doesn’t have all the skills necessary for that kind of work, but she’s able to stumble along with some help. Watching both of these two mavericks at work was such a blast (Siobhan once again is confronted with her colleagues pointing out her methods and focus approximating Rebus’). The actual solution to the mystery of Flip’s appearance was very satisfying and well-executed.

I spent a good deal of time missing Brian Holmes during the early pages — the DS that Siobhan is partnered up with just stressed how much isn’t Brian. And it goes downhill from there. Brian might not have been my favorite supporting character, but wow — he’s so much better than everyone else Siobhan has worked with (other than DI Rebus, of course). Maybe it helps that he was involved with that librarian, so he wasn’t trying to start something with her (minor spoiler, sorry).

The book starts with Watson’s retirement (not the last we see of him, which is nice), and newly-minted DCS Gill Templar has her work cut out for her. Not only does she need to lead the search for the missing daughter of an important Edinburgh banker, but she has to establish her authority. The way she goes about it rubs some the wrong way, and you have to wonder how long she can maintain things. Siobhan’s take on her new boss shows a good amount of discernment. One thing’s for sure, Rebus is going to miss Farmer Watson (but not his coffee).

Speaking of Gill, Rebus has a new romantic interest in The Falls, Jean Burchill. I liked Jean more than I ever liked Gill, Patience (low bar, there) or any of the others that have graced these pages. Her husband had been an alcoholic (of a different sort than Rebus), and sees Rebus’ vices in a very different light than other have. She doesn’t approve, but she can approach them more realistically than Patience ever did. I fear she won’t be around long, but that’s hopefully just cynicism on my part. (feel free to leave me in the dark on that front down in the comment box, folks).

Not just Farmer’s retirement, but Rebus has to deal with loss and a greater sense of mortality at points here. He and his contemporaries can’t help but sense their own retirement days approaching/looming. Also, Rebus may not add to his enemies list within the Police, but he’s deepened the antagonism a few have toward him. At one point, he goes out of his way to cultivate that — for a good reason, in his mind at least. But I’m not sure if he’s ever come closer to losing his job. Who knows what’d happen to him if that day comes.

This is one of those covers that makes you wish cover designers had to read the book — an inconsequential point, but when Rebus actually got to the titular location, I had to shake my head. (Other cover images I’ve seen for this aren’t as misleading).

This might not be as powerfully told, or as sweeping as some of the recent books have been. But I’m not sure I’ve enjoyed reading a Rebus novel more than this one — and could’ve easily read it in one sitting. This will be sure to please Rebus fans and could easily make some, too.

—–

4 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

My Favorite Fiction of 2017

Is he ever going to stop with these 2017 Wrap Up posts? I know, I know…I’m sick of them. But I’ve already done most of the work on this one, I might as well finish…Also, it was supposed to go up Friday, but formatting problems . . .

Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1. Also, none of these are re-reads, I can’t have everyone losing to my re-reading books that I’ve loved for 2 decades.

I truly enjoyed all but a couple of books this year (at least a little bit), but narrowing the list down to those in this post was a little easier than I expected (‘tho there’s a couple of books I do feel bad about ignoring). I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½-Star books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

(in alphabetical order by author)

In The StillIn The Still

by Jacqueline Chadwick
My original post

Chadwick’s first novel is probably the most entertaining serial killer novel I’ve ever read. Without sacrificing creepiness, suspense, horror, blood, guts, general nastiness, and so on — she gives us a story with heart, humor and humanity. The second novel, Briefly Maiden is arguably better, but I liked this one a teensy bit more — and I’m genuinely nervous about what’s going to happen in book 3 (not that I won’t read it as soon as I possibly can).

4 1/2 Stars

The Hangman's Sonnet Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet

My original post

How do you possibly follow-up 2016’s Debt to Pay, especially with that ending, without dramatically altering the Jesse Stone flavor? I’m still not sure how Coleman did it, but he did — Jesse’s dealing with Debt to Pay in a typically self-destructive way, but is keeping his head mostly above water so he can get his job done, mostly by inertia rather than by force of will. Reflexes kick in however, and while haunted, Jesse can carry out his duties in a reasonable fashion until some friends and a case can push him into something more.

Coleman’s balancing of long-term story arcs and character development with the classic Jesse Stone-type story is what makes this novel a winner and puts this one on my list.

4 1/2 Stars

A Plague of GiantsA Plague of Giants

by Kevin Hearne

This sweeping — yet intimately told — epic fantasy about a continent/several civilizations being invaded by a race nobody knew existed is almost impossible to put into a few words. It’s about people stepping up to do more than they thought possible,more than they thought necessary, just so they and those they love can survive. It’s about heroes being heroic, leaders leading, non-heroes being more heroic, leaders conniving and failing, and regular people finding enough reason to keep going. It’s everything you want in an epic fantasy, and a bunch you didn’t realize you wanted, too (but probably should have).

5 Stars

Cold ReignCold Reign

by Faith Hunter

My original post
Hunter continues to raise the stakes (yeah, sorry, couldn’t resist) for Jane and her crew as the European Vamps’ visit/invasion gets closer. Am not sure what’s more intriguing, the evolution in Jane’s powers or the evolution of the character — eh, why bother choosing? Both are great. The growth in the Younger brothers might be more entertaining — I appreciate the way they’ve become nearly as central to the overall story as Jane. I’m not sure this is the book for new readers to the series, but there are plenty before it to hook someone.

5 Stars

Once Broken FaithOnce Broken Faith

by Seanan McGuire
My original post

Poor planning on my part (in 2016) resulted in me reading two Toby Daye books this year, both just excellent, but this one worked a little bit better for me. Oodles and oodles of Fae royalty and nobility in one spot to decide what they’re going to do with this elf-shot cure leading to a sort-of closed room mystery (it’s just a really big, magical room) with peril on all side for Toby and her found family.

5 Stars

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls

by Patrick Ness
My original post

There were so many ways this could’ve been hacky, overly-sentimentalized, brow-beating, or after-school special-y and Ness avoids them all to deliver a heart-wrenching story about grief, death, love, and the power of stories — at once horrifying, creepy and hopeful.

4 1/2 Stars

Black and BlueBlack and Blue

by Ian Rankin
My original post

Rankin kicked everything into a higher gear here — there are so many intricately intertwining stories here it’s hard to describe the book in brief. But you have Rebus running from himself into mystery after mystery, drink after drink, career-endangering move after career-endangering move. Unrelenting is the best word I can come up with for this book/character/plot — which makes for a terrific read.

5 Stars

SourdoughSourdough

by Robin Sloan
My original post

This delightful story of a programmer turned baker turned . . . who knows what, in a Bay Area Underground of creative, artisanal types who will reshape the world one day. Or not. It’s magical realism, but more like magical science. However you want to describe it, there’s something about Sloan’s prose that makes you want to live in his books.

Do not read if you’re on a low carb/carb-free diet. Stick with Sloan’s other novel in that case.

4 1/2 Stars

The Hate U Give (Audiobook)The Hate U Give

by Angie Thomas, Bahni Turpin (Narrator)

My original post

This was a great audiobook –and I can’t imagine that the text version was as great, I just didn’t have time for it. It’s the story about the aftermath — socially, personally, locally, nationally — of a police shooting of an unarmed black male as seen through the eyes of a close friend who was inches away from him at the time.

I think I’d have read a book about Starr Carter at any point in her life, honestly, she’s a great character. Her family feels real — it’s not perfect, but it’s not the kind of dysfunctional that we normally see instead of perfect, it’s healthy and loving and as supportive as it can be. The book will make you smile, weep, chuckle and get angry. It’s political, and it’s not. It’s fun and horrifying. It’s . . . just read the thing. Whatever you might think of it based on what you’ve read (including what I’ve posted) isn’t the whole package, just read the thing (or, listen to it, Turpin’s a good narrator).

5 Stars

The ForceThe Force

by Don Winslow
My original post

There may be better Crime Fiction writers at the moment than Don Winslow, but that number is small, and I can’t think of anyone in it. In this fantastic book, Winslow tells the story of the last days of a corrupt, but effective (in their own corrupt and horrible way), NYPD Task Force. Denny Malone is a cop’s cop, on The Wire he’s be “real police” — but at some point he started cutting corners, lining his pockets (and justifying it to himself), eventually crossing the line so that he’s more “robber” than “cop.” Mostly. And though you know from page 1 that he’s dirty and going down, you can’t help get wrapped up in his story, hoping he finds redemption, and maybe even gets away with it.

But the book is more than that. In my original post I said: “This book feels like the love child of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities and Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy. You really feel like you understand how the city of New York is run — at least parts of it: the police, elements of the criminal world, and parts of the criminal justice system. Not how they’re supposed to run, but the way it really is. [Winslow] achieves this through a series of set pieces and didactic pericopes.”

A police story, a crime thriller, a book about New York — oh, yeah, possibly the best thing I read last year.

5 Stars

There were a few that almost made the list — almost all of them did make the Top 10 for at least a minute, actually. But I stuck with the arbitrary 10 — these were all close, and arguably better than some of those on my list. Anyway, those tied for 11th place are: <

Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey (my original post), Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb (my original post), Briefly Maiden by Jacqueline Chadwick (yes, again) (my original post), The Twisted Path by Harry Connolly (my original post), Bound by Benedict Jacka (my original post), The Western Star by Craig Johnson (my original post), The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire (see? Another Toby Daye) (my original post), The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh (my original post), Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells(my original post).

My Favorite 2017 New (to me) Characters

A few weeks ago, I started to describe someone as one of the best characters I met this year. Which got me to thinking about and honing this list. I’m limiting myself to characters I met this year, otherwise I don’t think there’s be much room for anyone — Spenser, Hawk, Scout, Harry Dresden, Toby Daye, Ford Prefect etc. wouldn’t really allow anyone else to be talked about. These might not be my favorite people in their respective books (although most are), but they’re the best characters in terms of complexity, depth and story potential I doubt I’d like most of them in real life (and can’t imagine that any of them would enjoy me), but in novels? I can’t get enough of them.

(in alphabetical order by author)

  • Aimee de Laurent from Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey (my post about the book)– she’s smart, she’s driven, she’s compassionate, she’s powerful, she’s fallible. She also flies around in a spaceship and does magic.
  • Lori Anderson from Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb (my post about the book)– She’s more than Stephanie Plum without the Lucy Ricardo DNA. She’s a tough lady, a dedicated mom, and more. This bounty hunter will impress you with her guts, get your sympathy with her plight, and make you cheer as she bests her opponents (I should probably add “make you wince as she takes some brutal beatings).
  • Ali Dalglish from In the Still by Jacqueline Chadwick (my post about the book)– Ali is a certified (and possibly certifiable) genius. She’s a criminal profiler working in Vancouver, BC after nearly a couple of decades away to raise her kids. But when a serial killer’s victim is found near her home, she’s drug back into the professional world she left with the investigation. She has the most creative swearing this side of Malcom Tucker, a fantastic and fast mind, a jaded look at life, and a sense of humor that’s sure to please. Early in In the Still, she asks questions of a police officer in a public forum and pretty much ruins the poor guy — it’s one of the best scenes I read all year. If you can read that far in the book and not become a Ali fan at that point, there’s something wrong with you. If I was ranking these, I’m pretty sure she’d be #1.
  • Nick Mason from The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton (https://wp.me/p3z9AH-2NI)– A convicted non-violent criminal gets released early from an Illinois prison only to find himself in a different type of prison to work off his debt for being released, making him lose the “non-” in front of violent. He’s a great character, on the verge (always on the verge) of redemption and falling further.
  • Dervan du Alöbar from A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne (my post about the book is forthcoming) — I could’ve named about half of the point-of-view characters from this book, but Dervan eked out a win. He’s a widower in mourning. A former soldier, wounded in duty, turned scholar, turned . . . well — that’s a long story. There’s something about his coming to grips with the new reality, his new vocation, his self-awareness and growth in his personal life just really clicked with me. He’s basically an unqualified fantasy hero, forced to step up and play a role in saving civilization (which actually describes many people in this book, but that’s for another day).
  • Isaiah Quintabe from IQ by Joe Ide (my post about the book)– South-Central LA’s answer to Sherlock Holmes. We meet IQ early in his career and, via flashbacks, see him begin to develop the gifts that will make him the super-detective he’s destined to become. He’s such a great take on this character, I can’t believe no one beat Ide to the punch.
  • Anci from Down Don’t Bother Me by Jason Miller (my post about the book) — yeah, her dad, Slim, is the series start and protagonist. He’s the one that goes trough all the hardship, the beatings, the investigative moves, not his 12-year-old daughter (who isn’t a young Veronica Mars clone, or Rae Spellman). But Anci is the heart and soul of the books — she’s why Slim goes to work in this field, and why he comes back. She’s smarter and wittier than any 12-year-old has any right to be (but believably so), she’s Slim’s conscience, and his reason for doing what he does.
  • LeAnne Hogan from The Right Side by Spencer Quinn (my post about the book)– comes back from Afghanistan after near-fatal injuries, and isn’t fit for the civilian life she’s thrown back into. She begins to deal with her grief and anger while hunting for the child of a dead friend with the help of a stray dog. She’ll break your heart.
  • John Rebus from Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin (my post about the book)– Wow. How do I sum up Rebus? 2017 was the 30th anniversary of Rebus’ creation and the first year I read him. He’s a wonderful, complex character. He smokes too much, he drinks too much, he ignores the rules and regulations (and maybe even the laws) in his ongoing effort to forget about himself and his life by pouring himself into his work. Tenacious with a capital “T”, he may not be the smartest police detective you ever read, but he makes up for it through not giving up (although he’s pretty smart — especially when not drinking).
  • Hob Ravani from Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells (my post about the book)– Tough does not begin to describe this biker. She’s all about surviving on this planet that’s not at all conducive to survival — from the environment, to the economics, to the politics — there’s just nothing on the planet that wants her or her fellow Ghost Wolves to survive. But somehow she does.

Set in Darkness by Ian Rankin

Set in DarknessSet in Darkness

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #11

Hardcover, 414 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2000

Read: December 8 – 12, 2017


This has all the elements of a good Rebus novel — and then some.

We’ve got a murder that took place so long ago that there are almost no living witnesses or suspects, a very contemporary murder, Rebus in political trouble, Rebus being self-destructive, and a couple of cases that have nothing whatsoever to do with the murders — oh, and Big Ger Cafferty shows up to do something horrible (and something helpful).

Farmer John is near retirement and comes up with an assignment to keep Rebus out of his hair — he’s part of a task force overseeing security on the construction for the impending Parliament. This construction uncovers a murder victim and Rebus and the rest of the task force begin investigating. They can barely get started when another corpse shows up. This one is very fresh, and very connected to a prominent family — politically and culturally. I’m not going to get into this much more than that — there’s a lot of good stuff in these cases, most of which we’ve seen variations of before. This doesn’t make it bad, it’s very Rebus-y material, told the way we’ve come to expect.

The part of the book that fascinated me were the crimes that had little to do with the murders. Siobhan Clarke starts off the book doing some work on a sexual assault case that isn’t really hers, and then witnesses a suicide of a homeless man. This homeless man turns out to have plenty of money in the bank and a history that cannot account for that. Clarke threatens at times to take over the book with her investigations. Not just from her investigation, but the way that one uniformed officer describes her as “one of Rebus'” and the introspection, speculation and reaction to that observation causes in Clarke’s life and work. (Incidentally, Clarke taking over the novel would be fine with me)

One of the storylines is perfect — there’s almost no interaction with any police characters, and resolves largely off-screen. Basically the way that most storylines actually resolve in the world. There are payoffs in the novel as a whole, but not in the way you’d expect.

Really well-constructed with almost no dull moments, puzzles that you can’t suss out at first glance, and a whole lot of great characters. There’s not a lot for the courts to deal with at the end of this book, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no justice found for any victims.This isn’t the best Rebus novel I’ve read, but it’s really, really good.

—–

4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge