My Favorite Crime/Mystery/Detective/Thriller Fiction of 2018

Once I settled on dividing this chunk of my reading out for its own list, I knew instantly half of the books that’d make it before I looked at just what I’d read in 2018. After going through that list, I had 15 more candidates for the other 5 spots. Whittling those down was hard, but I’m pretty comfortable with this list. That doesn’t mean the other 90 or so books I read in this family of genres were bad — most were great (I can think of maybe 5 I could’ve missed). But these are the crème de la crème.

Man, I wanted to write the crème de la crime there. But I’m better than that.

Not all of these were published in 2018 — but my first exposure to them was. As always, I don’t count re-reads, or almost no one could stand up to Stout, early Parker, etc. and my year-end lists would get old fast.

Now that I’m done with this, I can focus on 2019.

(in alphabetical order by author)

The Puppet ShowThe Puppet Show

by M. W. Craven

My original post
A book with some of the darkest moments I came across last year — and some of the brightest, too. The mystery was great, the character moments (not just between the protagonists) were better — great rounded, human, characters. Even after I saw where Craven was going with things, I refused to believe it — and only gave up when I had no other choice. Two (at least) fantastic reveals in this book, very compelling writing and fantastic characters. What more do you want? Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw are two of my favorite new characters and I can’t wait to see where they go next.

5 Stars

Needle SongNeedle Song

by Russell Day

My original post
I could pretty much copy and paste that above paragraph for this one. It never gets as dark as The Puppet Show, but the depravity displayed is bad enough to unsettle any reader. What makes this story compelling isn’t really the crime, it’s the way the crime impacts the people near it — those who lost a family member (I don’t want to say loved one) and those who are close to the suspects. Yakky and Doc Slidesmith are characters I hope to see again soon, and I want to bask in Day’s prose even more.

5 Stars

She Rides ShotgunShe Rides Shotgun

by Jordan Harper

My original post
The story of a little girl being surrounded by death and destruction, with both looming and threatening her all the time, and her discovering how to be brave. The story of a man trying to be a good father — or just a father. The story of survival. A story of revenge. A story about all kinds of violence. Wonderfully told.

4 Stars

WreckedWrecked

by Joe Ide

My original post
Not as entertaining as IQ, but it works as a novel in ways the previous two didn’t. I don’t know if I could put my finger on it, but it’s there. Wrecked is a clear step in evolution for Isaiah, Dodson, and probably Ide. It definitely demonstrates that the three are here to stay as long as Ide wants, and that these characters aren’t satisfied with being inner-city Sherlock/Watson, but they’re going places beyond that. Some good laughs, some good scares, some real “I can’t believe Ide ‘let’ them do that to Isaiah” moments — a great read.

5 Stars

A Mint Condition CorpseA Mint Condition Corpse

by Duncan MacMaster

My original post
I put off reading this for reasons I really don’t understand and haven’t forgiven myself for yet. But the important thing is that I read it — it took me a chapter or two to really get into it, but once I did, I was in hook, like and sinker. In my original post I said this is “a joy to read; full of characters you’ll want to spend days with, that you’ll want to have over for Thanksgiving dinner just to lighten things up and distract you from Aunt Martha’s overcooked yams and dry turkey; a completely fun time that’s very likely most I’ve enjoyed a book in 2018. It is escapist. It is silly. It is clever.” I also said, “Probably the 5-Star-est 5-Stars I’ve given this year.” There are a couple of books that could compete for that line, but I’m not sure they’d win.

5 Stars

My Little EyeMy Little Eye

by Stephanie Marland

My original post
Fantastic, fantastic premise. Great hook. Another great pair of protagonists (although most of their work is independent of each other). A True Crime blogger and a DI racing to uncover a serial killer, while battling dark secrets, dark pasts, and outside pressures that threaten to derail them at every turn. Marland surprised me more often and in more ways than just about any author this year. I was floored by some of them, too. A great puzzle, a great mish-mash of amateur detective and police procedural.

4 1/2 Stars

Her Last MoveHer Last Move

by John Marrs

My original post
I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into when I said yes to this Book Tour request. I’m not sure I could have — no offense to Mr. Marrs, but I don’t think I’d heard of him before. He’s definitely on my radar now. This was brutal, devastating, shocking, and just about every other adjective reviewers (professional and otherwise) overuse when describing a thriller. Marrs did so many things I didn’t think he would do. He didn’t do a lot that I thought he would (and seemed to mock the idea that he’d so some of what I wanted him to do). I spent a lot of time while reading this book not liking him very much, but so grateful I was getting to read the book. I’m still upset by some of it, but in awe of the experience.

5 Stars

Stoned LoveStoned Love

by Ian Patrick

My original post
Sam Batford, undercover cop, is back in a sequel that shows real growth from a very impressive debut. Batford is in incredibly murky ethical and legal waters — and that’s not counting what his undercover op is. Any misstep could ruin his career, end his life, land him in prison — or all three. Actually, those options hold true even if he doesn’t make any missteps. There are so many balls in the air with this one that it’d be easy to lose track of one or more. But Patrick doesn’t seem to struggle with that at all — and he writes in such a way that a reader doesn’t either. That’s a gift not to be overlooked. I liked the overall story more than it’s predecessor and think that Patrick’s writing was better here. This is a series — and a character — that you really need to get to know.

4 1/2 Stars (I remember liking it more than that…I’m sure I had a reason at the time)

Exit MusicExit Music

by Ian Rankin

My original post
I’ve spent enough time with John Rebus over the last couple of years that I knew one of the books had to end p here, I just wasn’t sure which one. Exit Music ended up on the Top 10 not so much for the main mysteries (although they put the book in contention), but for all rest of the things that the novel was about — Rebus’ moving on (not knowing how to or to where), Siobhan moving on (and not sure she wants to), and the dozen or so little things surrounding the two of them and their work. Even Big Ger was kind of moving on here — and that’s just strange to read about. Exit Music would’ve been a great way to say farewell to John Rebus, I’m just glad it wasn’t that.

5 Stars

Trouble is a Friend of MineTrouble is a Friend of Mine

by Stephanie Tromly, Kathleen McInerney (Narrator)

My original post
If not for Kirby Baxter (above), I could say this was the most fun I had with a Mystery novel this year (not to take anything away from the sequels on that front). This is just the right mix of high school hijinks, teen drama, quirky characters and writing with panache. Zoe and Digby are a great combo of smarts, recklessness and responsibility as they work their way through puzzles surrounding missing kids, drug dealing doctors, and some strange cult-like group. You can feel the chemistry between them — like Remington Steele and Laura Holt, David Addison and Maddy Hays, Cumberbatch’s Sherlock and Freeman’s Watson. Throw in their friends and frenemies and you’ve got a recipe for fun and suspense. I listened to this on audiobook (and bought the paperback for my daughter before I got to the end, I should add) and McInerney’s narration was perfect — she captured the spirit of the book and made the characters come alive.

4 Stars

Advertisements

The Complaints by Ian Rankin: Introducing the anti-Rebus, Malcolm Fox

The ComplaintsThe Complaints

by Ian Rankin

Series: Malcolm Fox, #1

Hardcover, 438 pg.
Little, Brown and Co., 2011

Read: November 20 – 22, 2018

I left the last Rankin book thinking, “If I didn’t know that there were more Rebus books coming, I’d be really depressed.” There are advantages to being this far behind a series. Thanks to a podcast interview I heard with Rankin around the time I started to plan my Rebus reading (I think it was this A Stab in the Dark episode), I knew that at some point, he pushed “Pause” on Rebus to introduce a new character — initially, I think, to replace Rebus. But it didn’t work out that way. Still, I wanted to read them in chronological order, so I could appreciate it when the new guy was merged into the Rebus books.

And that’s where we are now, with the introduction of The New Guy: Malcolm Fox, of the Complaints and Conduct division (aka “The Complaints”) — essentially, Internal Affairs (aka “The Rat Squad”). It’s almost like Rankin came up with a list of Rebus’ characteristics and put a “not-” in front of every one of them to create him. He doesn’t drink (because he’ll end up like Rebus does, or worse), he follows the rules (generally speaking), he gets along with and respects/trusts his superiors, he’s close with his family . . . et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. He’s a lot more likeable than Rebus, too — as a person and as a fictional character. He’s not as well-developed — this is his first book and Rebus had 17 at that point, so that makes sense. Although, typically, IAB/Complaints type characters are usually dramatic obstacles to the series protagonists and are therefore little-liked, so that was strange.

The novel starts with Fox riding high — he’s just closed a major investigation, and is doing clean up on that when he’s given a new assignment. He’ll be helping out another division — I suddenly forgot their name, but essentially, they’re the equivalent of the Special Victims Unit. So right away you know this is not going to be a fun book — a detective who polices the police investigating sex crimes. There’s just no way to paint a “fun-loving romp” face on that premise.

But before we can get too far down that road, a pretty big complication arises. (Minor Spoiler warning) The abusive boyfriend of Fox’s sister is found murdered. And guess who is the first suspect? That’s right. Better yet: guess who is one of the investigating officers? If you guessed the target of Fox’s new investigation, give yourself a pat on the back.

So Fox has to investigate a detective without him knowing about it, while being investigated by that same detective — and to keep it from looking like payback. Which is a pretty cool setup for a novel, you’ve got to admit. Better yet, it’s Rankin behind the wheel, so you know he can (and does) deliver on the setup.

The bulk of the novel is about Fox doing his best to find the killer — for his sister’s sake (primarily) — and keep himself out of the cross-hairs of the investigators. This will lead him to some very not-regulation investigative techniques, some of which might remind people of the Rankin creation that Fox isn’t. The mystery itself and the way it’s told is classic-Rankin. Lots of twists, a couple of good turns, very satisfying throughout.

Meanwhile, we get a pretty good character study/introduction to this new character through this — and through a friendship he develops with another detective during this. I really enjoyed the novel, and Rankin gave his new character a serious challenge to start with, a very cleverly constructed mystery to untangle. Fox is a worthy entry into the world of Rebus and Rankin.

I’ll leave with this — if after 2007’s Exit Music I’d have been nervous about what was to come next, I’d have been relieved after 2009’s The Complaints. Now, I’m just eager to see the two detectives on the same page.

—–

4 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge

Exit Music by Ian Rankin: Rebus has one more shot at Big Ger before he retires

I got off-track with these books when I took my trip out of state for my son’s transplant (I was due to go to the library to pick this up the day we got the call), and it took me a bit to get back on top of things. I’m so, so glad I was able to return to this world. I missed it.

Exit MusicExit Music

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #17

Hardcover, 421 pg.
Little Brown and Company, 2007
Read: October 17 – 18, 2018

Before I get into this, last week my son was playing some EASports game — FIFA something, I think. Anyway, I notice that he’s playing Hiberian, and my first thought is, “Hey, that’s Siobhan’s team.” That’s a sign that I’m probably reading too many Rebus novels, right? Anyway, on with this post…

           “No sign of any abandoned cars in the multistory?”

“Good point, Shiv, I’ll have someone check. Talk to you later.” The phone went dead, and she managed a little smile, hadn’t heard Rebus so fired up in several months. Not for the first time, she wondered what the hell he would do with himself when the work was done.

Answer: bug her, most likely–phone calls daily, wanting to know everything about her caseload.

I think many readers, like DS Clarke, have wondered just what Rebus will do after retirement — which is looming as this book begins. Actually, it’s more than looming — it’s 10 days away. Ten days of Rebus trying to squeeze in any last-second mentoring he can, ten days of him trying to get Clarke invested in cold cases he can’t let go of, ten days of Rebus trying to stay relevant, active . . . ten days of John Rebus trying to remain John Rebus.

John Rebus has no family left, few friends, only a handful of colleagues that trust him, no plans for retirement at all. He’s going to have to come up with something, he knows, but he can’t really contemplate that reality, much less plan for it.

But first, there’s a murder — a man without any identification on him has been found by a few pedestrians out for a late-night walk, apparently beaten to death. A literately-inclined morgue worker recognized him as a Russian exile and poet of note. Plunging Rebus and Clarke (named to lead the investigation, only because of Rebus’ impending retirement *wink*) into an investigation with international implications.

Funnily enough, a contingent of Russian businessmen is in Edinburgh looking for investment opportunities, all of which are welcomed and encouraged by members of Scottish Parliament — especially by those MSPs seeking independence. None of the MSPs have any interest in their Russian friends being hassled by detectives over a pesky little thing by murder. Even if the victim was drinking in the hotel they were staying at shortly before the murder.

But once Di Rebus finds not only a link between the victim and their hotel bar, but a link between the poet and Gerald Cafferty, and links between Cafferty and the Russian delegation? All bets are off. The clock is ticking on his career — and the ticking is getting really loud — but here’s Cafferty with some sort of connection to a murder victim? There’s no way that John Rebus can let this go (not that Siobhan Clarke is that interested in letting this opportunity pass by, either).

The investigation isn’t making too much progress, but maybe is getting far enough, when someone else connected to the case is killed. And the investigation looks like it’s dealing with a web of drugs, prostitution, blackmail, international interests, politics, a large national bank a poet, and Cafferty. Which would be a lot to deal with even without Rebus’ deadline.

While preparing for Rebus’ departure, Clarke takes a uniformed PC under her wing — he has talent and ambition — he was one of the two initial officers at the site of the original murder and wants to be a detective soon. Clarke brings him along with her to many interviews and visits to various places in the investigation, as him run errands and even do some of the grunt work (scouring through hours of audio recordings that may or may not hold relevant information). He’s an interesting character — he adds some emotional weight to some scenes, and comic relief in others.

It’s possible that Rebus is at his most introspective in these pages — he knows his career is finished and that in no time at all he’ll be forgotten by just about everyone. What’s been the point of it all?

           Outside in the car park he unlocked his Saab, but then stood there, hand on the door handle, staring into space. For a while now, he’d known the truth–that it wasn’t so much the underworld you had to fear as the overworld. Maybe that explained why Cafferty had, to all purposes and appearances, gone legit. A few friends in the right places and deals got done, fates decided. Never in his life had Rebus felt like an insider. From time to time he’d tried–during his years in the army and his first few months as a cop. But the less he felt he belonged, the more he came to mistrust the others around him with their games of golf and their “quiet words,” their stitch-ups and handshakes, palm greasing and scratching of backs.

Still, he perseveres, he gets into hot water with his superiors, with Clarke, with government officials, and — of course — Cafferty. In the end, despite the large number of detectives eventually working on the murders, Rebus is the only one to focus on the important facts (it helps that he’s not worried about what happens after the arrest, like everyone else is) and makes the important conclusions so that the cases can be closed in time for him to leave the force. It’s really a nice bit of storytelling by Rankin here, and I’d be very happy reading it even without all the hubbub around Rebus’ retirement. And then Rankin ends it with a jaw-dropping final chapter and a last line that just about floored me.

I’m so glad that I’m discovering these books now — when I know that there’s a future for Rebus (even if I’m not really sure what it is, but there are 5 books to come, at least). It can’t have been easy for Rebus fans to close this book not knowing what Rankin was going to do next.

At the same time, this remains a decent entry-book — like every other book in this series. Sure, you get more of the emotional weight if you’ve been reading about the DI for several books, but Rankin writes them in a way that the weight can be seen regardless.

I think if this were any other Rebus book, I’d rate it 4 stars for the case work, the internal squabbles with the hierarchy and the politics — but when you add in Rebus counting down the last ten days of his career, the hope of this case leading him to one more shot at Cafferty, the reflections on what he’s done and why he’s done it and what it cost . . . essentially, all the intangible things, the parts of a novel that are hard to pin down, much less describe. All that combined with a strong story, some excellent non-Rebus/Clarke/Cafferty character development (not that theirs isn’t strong as usual, but this is a new characters) — and it’s easy. Rebus retires with a 5.

—–

5 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

The Naming of the Dead by Ian Rankin: Rebus and Clarke find themselves in (well, next to) the middle of Global Politics.

The Naming of the DeadThe Naming of the Dead

by Ian RankinSeries: John Rebus, #16

Hardcover, 464 pg.
Little, Brown and Company, 2006
Read: June 22 – 25, 2018

           “Know what I think? I think all of this is because there’s a bit of the anarchist in you. You’re on their side, and it annoys you that you’ve somehow ended up working for The Man.”

Rebus snorted a laugh. “Where did you get that from?”

She laughed with him. “I’m right though, aren’t I? You’ve always seen yourself as being on the outside–” She broke off as their coffees arrived, dug her spoon into her cappuccino and scooped foam into her mouth.

“I do my best work on the margins,” Rebus said thoughtfully.

Rebus is on the verge of retirement — really, he’s about to be forced out, he’s at the stage of his career where many detectives would be just coming into the office and doing nothing — if not outright retiring already. And, truth be told, that’s precisely what everyone in the force seems to want (except for a few allies/friends), particularly the top brass. None of which Rebus has an interest in. He’s going to have to be pulled out, kicking and screaming — probably with someone barring the door after he’s out.

So when the G8 comes to Edinburgh in 2005, the police have their hands full with security, protests, riot preparations, and whatnot. They’re importing help from all over Scotland and even England. Everyone has plenty of assignments to deal with, everyone but John Rebus, that is. So when a clue comes up that might turn into something interesting on months-old murder case, he’s ready and raring to go. That evidence seems to point at multiple victims, too — so Siobhan Clarke is put in charge of that investigation, just please keep it quiet until all the important people have gone home (and yes, everyone is fully aware of the insult of putting the DS in charge of the DI on this one). Thankfully, there’s a suspicious-looking suicide that’s related to the G8 for Rebus to focus on.

At least one of the victims in Clarke’s case has an obvious connection to Big Ger Cafferty, too. Because why not make this all interesting? Big Ger’s the target of a local politician who happens to be making a lot of waves thanks to being in all the right places during the G8 protests, sticking up for his constituents and the cause of civility in the face of civil unrest. Rebus and Cafferty do their usual thing — Cafferty wants information so he can get his form of justice taken out of the murderer, Rebus needs information from Cafferty so he can prevent that. But at the end of the day here, Siobhan spends more time with Cafferty, despite everything Rebus tries to do.

Which is the crux of this novel, really. Rebus is at his career’s end, he knows it. The closest thing he has to a legacy is DS Clarke — and he wants it to be a good legacy. He wants to keep her from Cafferty’s clutches, from the dirt that’s dogged him for years due to guilt-by-association — as well as his actual influence. At the same time, he wants her to maintain that “work on the margins” attitude, while staying in good graces with TPTB. He wants Clarke to be everything he is, just without all the bad that comes from it. (I think she wants that, too, actually). Bringing me back to the point that this novel features Rebus fighting all involved for Siobhan’s soul.

In an interesting parallel, Siobhan’s actual parents are in town to take part in the G8 protests. There’s a young woman hanging out with them, almost like a temporary daughter (which really gets under her skin). She’s determined to spend some time with them, to show herself that she can have some sort of personal life — a family — and still be a good cop. To not be Rebus. At the same time, she so wants her parents to see her as a capable detective, not just someone in the midst of a defiant reaction to her parent’s lifestyle and beliefs.

Eric Bains shows up in a light I don’t think anyone expected, and I’m hoping that things turn around for him soon. I like the guy. He’s not Brian Holmes, but he’s a nice character to have around. There’s a reporter, Marie Henderson, involved in all of this, too (that’s her opining in the opening quotation) — I really liked her, and hope we see her again. Rebus seems to actually enjoy her company and intelligence — at the same time, as the co-writer of Cafferty’s biography, she represents everything that Rebus fears for Clarke.

I’ve not spent a lot of time talking about the cases — which are interesting enough, and watching Rebus not be careful around Very Important People from all over the world is fun. But on the whole, the cases felt familiar. Like we’ve been down these roads before — not exactly, and both held plenty of surprises, but they seemed like familiar Rebus/Clarke investigations. I might have been tempted to give his a 3-Star rating and move on.

BUT, Rankin won’t let me — because putting all of this right smack in the middle of the G8 conference — and the hullabaloo surrounding it (protests, concerts, marches) — the Bush bicycling incident, the London bombings, and the announcement of the Olympics coming to London — added so much to the novel. It grounded it in reality, it presented so many obstacles to the investigations (as well as distractions from the investigations) — as well as unexpected sources of help (police officers from other jurisdictions that had just the right kind of information). Plus all the “keep Siobhan from becoming Rebus” elements of the novel just captivated me.

Another winner. What else is there to say?

—–

4 Stars2018 Library Love Challenge

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

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