Death is Not the End by Ian Rankin

Death is Not the EndDeath is Not the End

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #10.5

Hardcover, 73 pg.
St. Martin’s Minotaur, 1998

Read: December 4, 2017


I used Goodreads’ ordering of the Rebus series to determine when I read this novella — other sites might have led me to read this before Dead Souls, as it was published. I might have gotten more out of this book if I’d read it in that order, but it might have hurt the novel. I’m not sure.

Basically, this is one of the subplots of Dead Souls — Rebus’ looking for the missing son of a people he knew in school — in its original form. It’d be modified, expanded, and given a different ending in the novel. There’s a subplot, mildly related, involving organized crime and gambling — in much the same way that other crimes were associated with the missing person’s case in Dead Souls.

It is interesting to see how Rankin wrote something, and then came back a couple of years later and repurposed it. But that’s about all I have to say for this. It was interesting — but the version in the novel is better. The subplot didn’t do much for me, either. It was okay, but it really didn’t seem necessary.

The completist in me is glad I read it, but I think I’d have been okay with missing it, too.

—–

3 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

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Dead Souls by Ian Rankin

Dead SoulsDead Souls

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #10

Hardcover, 406 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 1999

Read: November 10 – 13, 2017

For the best part of an hour, Rebus had been trying to blink away a hangover, which was about as much exercise as he could sustain. He’d planted himself on benches and against walls, wiping his brow even though Edinburgh’s early spring was a blood relative of midwinter. His shirt was damp against his back, uncomfortably tight every time he rose to his feet.

This might actually be the high point for Rebus in this novel — at least as far as the way he feels goes. The bad news is, this is from Chapter 1. Clearly, Jack Morton’s influence has clearly ended. Rebus is moments away from doing something he’ll regret almost instantly and that will have ramifications on everything he does for the foreseeable future, some of which will likely haunt him for more than that.

Which almost seems par for the course, I realize as I type that.

Anyway, Dead Souls focuses on crimes against children and what that can do to them — not just at the moment they’re victimized, but years later. There are also unintended (and fully intended consequences of crimes against adults throughout the book — Rebus’ own hands aren’t entirely clean here. Rebus’ actions in the opening pages cast enough of a shadow on him that his very brief involvement on another case is used by the defense to cast a shadow on the police’s investigation. He’s also tasked to investigate the apparent suicide of a police detective, informally, anyway. His main task is to work with Siobhan Clarke and a rookie to be a very obvious police presence to a convicted multiple-murderer, recently released and deported from the US back to Scotland. They really can’t do anything other than be visible for a few days until money runs out on the operation, but no one who knows this killer has any doubt that he’ll strike again, and the police are trying to discourage that. Unofficially, Rebus makes things uncomfortable for a pedophile in his new home — an act that will not go well and will spiral out of control — and he’s helping an old girlfriend look for her missing son.

Confused? Yeah, sure, I am — and I wrote that summary. Somehow, Rankin is able to take all that mess and assemble it into a novel that actually makes sense — with all of these stories being tied together, not just with over-lapping themes, but in reality in some sort of 6 degrees of separation fashion — even excluding DI Rebus. It’s really very impressive watching how Rankin weaves every strand of story and character in this novel — it always is, but this web seems more intricate than usual.

The other police in this novel interest me — I won’t go down the list, but those who can’t see why he cares about something, those who can’t understand why he’d do something with so little regard to consequences are on one end — the other end is filled by people (like Clarke) who know exactly what kind of man he is, and without approving or participating in the less-than-savory aspects his methods, can use him and them for good.

…he wondered why it was he was only ever happy on rewind. He thought back to times when he’d been happy, realising that at the time he hadn’t felt happy; it was only in retrospect that it dawned on him. Why was that?

There’s very little light in this novel, there’s introspection, there’s despair, there’s hatred, fear, prejudice, and opportunists taking advantage of all of that. But somehow the book never seems slow or ponderous — just Rebus chugging along, doing his thing. There’s also some strong action — some we see as it happens, but most we hear about after the fact (years or days alter). If you stop and think about how many criminal seem to “get away” with their crimes (as defined by not being charged/tried), it’s not that satisfying. If you think about the book in terms of Rebus (and through him, the reader) understanding what happened and why — it’s satisfying, not really cheerful, but satisfying in that regard.

The souls that are dead here have been killed by various means and methods over time — some realize that’s what they are, some haven’t a clue — some come to realize it in these pages (and some try to revitalize themselves). By and large, they’re dead souls walking, and seem intent on taking others with them. The question is: is DI Rebus among them?

I’m really not sure if I’ve said anything worthwhile about the book — it’s impressive, immersive and will not let you go — even days after finishing it. I don’t know that this is a bad one to be your first Rebus novel — you may be willing to cut him more slack for his questionable actions if you’ve got a history with him than you would be otherwise, however. For me, this is just further proof that Rankin is one of the best and is getting better (or was, at this point in his career anyway)

—–

4 1/2 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

The Hanging Garden by Ian Rankin

The Hanging GardenThe Hanging Garden

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #9

Hardcover, 335 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 1998

Read: October 4 – 6, 2017

Rebus couldn’t get so excited. The whole enterprise had shown him a simple truth: no vacuum. Where you had society, you had criminals. No belly without an underbelly.

It’s just that kind of chipper optimism that keeps readers coming back to the Rebus books, isn’t it? The events in The Hanging Garden sure aren’t going to change his mind. There are three investigations at the core of this book (although another is referred to repeatedly) — but far more than 3 crimes.

The first is an investigation into an older gentleman who is suspected to be a former Nazi officer who was involved in the slaughter of an entire town in the waning days of WWII. Because of Rebus’ penchant for taking historical deep-dives when most police officers wouldn’t, he’s assigned to investigate this man. There are individuals from various organizations, governmental entities, and the press who are pressuring the accused and Rebus on this front.

The second involves an up and coming gangster — Tommy Telford’s smarter, quicker, and crueler than Rebus and the rest are used to dealing with — he’s also a genuine rival to Big Ger Cafferty (especially since Cafferty’s in prison). There’s a prostitute, a victim of human trafficking, that Rebus focuses on, trying to get her out of Telford’s control while using her to take him down. This becomes laden with some personal baggage (see below) and Rebus takes some risky moves that have some devastating consequences.

Lastly, Rebus’ daughter, Sammy is struck by a car in a hit and run and spends days in a coma. Based on a witness’ statement, Rebus becomes convinced that she was targeted thanks to her involvement with the prostitute and/or being his daughter. Either way, Rebus is out for blood — if only he knew who he was after. He strikes a deal to get criminals looking for the perpetrator while he’s helping/prodding the official police investigation. It really doesn’t matter which side of the law finds the driver, as far as he’s concerned, the end is the only important thing.

I’m not sure we needed the Nazi storyline — which by the way, is based on a real atrocity — but it serves to muddy the waters for Rebus and distract him. So it did play its part, and was good enough that I’m not complaining. Telford is a wonderful (fictional) criminal — I don’t want this guy walking around in my world, but in a novel? Love him. And the Sammy story — obviously, this is the emotional core to the book and is really well done.

When you have that many plates spinning, it’s hard to keep them going — and to do so in a way that balances the story telling to keep the reader engaged and not confused. Throwing in the personal aspects make it all the harder for Rankin — Clarke and Templar are involved with the police actions, and Jack Morton plays a significant role, too (and I finally liked him). Plus you have Sammy (mostly seen in flashbacks), Rhona (her mother) who comes to look after her comatose daughter. Patience Aitken is around as well — what she ever sees in Rebus, I’ll never know, it’s clearly a horrible match.

The way that Rankin has put this one together made it very difficult for me to talk about (I’ve tried to get this post written at least a dozen times). But that doesn’t mean it was hard to read — once I was in 10 pages or so in, there was no stopping. It’s a heckuva read, and I really can’t express more than that.

Rebus — mostly sober throughout, for a change — has some strong moments of self-assessment and self-examination, and is able to see/express things about himself and his approach to his work that many readers probably have intuited but it’s nice to have the man himself realize. Including one insight into himself that enabled me to finally figure out what makes Rebus and Harry Bosch different — something I’ll hopefully return to soon.

I didn’t expect that this would live up to Black and Blue, and it didn’t. But it wasn’t a let-down in any sense — it was a different kind of story, a different kind of crime, and different motivations for John Rebus. Still, the essentials are there: Rebus, his outlook, his tenacity, his humor, and his demons. Crime fiction doesn’t get much better than this.

—–

4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Black and Blue by Ian Rankin

Black and BlueBlack and Blue

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #8

Hardcover, 391 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 1997

Read: September 4 – 5, 2017


I wasn’t sure if I should open with:

He went into the toilets again, just to steady his breathing and look at himself in the mirror. He tried to relax his jaw muscles. In the past, he’d have been reaching for the quarter-bottle of whisky in his pocket. But tonight there was no quarter-bottle, no Dutch courage. Which meant for once he’d be relying on the real thing.

or:

…Rebus sat on a char in the interview room, watching his hands shaking.
‘You OK?’ Jack asked.
‘Know what, Jack? You’re like a broken record.’
‘Know what, John? You’re always needing it asked.’

Either one of those works to sum up Rebus’ frame of mind in the latter half of this book (and that’s largely because things had gotten worse for him by that point). Not that things were ever going his way in this book.

Following his gutsy political moves in the last book he’s been assigned to the worst police station in Edinburgh and a case he worked early in his career as a Detective with his mentor has come under increased scrutiny thanks to some media attention, and an underdog convicted of that crime who is able to cast some doubt on the original investigation. Meanwhile, a serial killer from the late 60s (who remains uncaptured) has inspired a copycat. Rebus (like every detective in Scotland, it seems) is on the fringes of this investigation. Oh, yeah, and there’s an unrelated suspicious death that Rebus needs to investigate.

Four cases, with more in common than anyone expects until the most tenacious cop east of Harry Bosch starts doing his thing. He starts following threads that take him far from his desk and home — Glasgow and eventually Aberdeen — and the oil platforms north. While dodging the press (more persistent that he’s used to) superior officers and an internal investigation, Rebus moves around the country picking at clues and hunches while getting under the skin of criminals, cops, oil company executives, and one serial killer.

There are so many police officers running around this book, some we know, some we don’t. Siobhan Clarke has a small, but pivotal role to play. Brian Holmes is around helping Rebus unofficially, while things with Nell are at their worst. Jack Morton, Rebus’ old drinking pal plays a significant role in this novel — he’s clean and sober now, and is convinced that’s what Rebus needs to do, too. Gil Templar needs Rebus’ help, very unofficially. There are new detectives and from Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh for readers and Rebus to meet — the main thing they all seem to have in common is that they don’t want Rebus mucking around in their cities.

I don’t know if I’ve seen Rebus more self-destructive. He’s drinking more than normal (which is saying something) and seems to care less than ever about what his superiors think of him (which is also saying something). Some of his wry sense of humor remains — almost entirely buried under cynicism. Rebus has had doubts about what he and his mentor did years ago, and the renewed attention isn’t helping his sense of guilt. He is far more interested in the serial killer cases than he ought to be professionally, it’s become a habit that threatens to distract him from his actual duties. His personal demons are almost as much of an antagonist than anyone he could possibly arrest in Black and Blue. Yet, he investigates in the same way he always does — and the way he wraps up most of the cases carry his signature style.

Black and Blue is intense, it is ambitious — for most of the book, it’d be easy to see this as being the end of the road for Rebus (if I wasn’t fully aware that 13 other novels had been published with at least one more announced) — not that you’re all that worried about him living through the end, you’re more worried that he’ll be unemployed by the end. It’s one of those novels that makes you want to ignore obligations, work and family — none of which can be as interesting or pressing as the book. You could cut out half the murders from this novel and it’d still be a winner, including all of them makes this something more than that.

I went into this one with a mix of trepidation and anticipation — I’ve heard that this was where the series took a turn for the better. I recently heard an interview with Rankin where he described it that way — sales, awards, critical acclaim, all came with this book. So I was worried that I wouldn’t see what so many had before — but was excited to try. This one lives up to expectations, as high as they might be. Just a stunning work. I honestly don’t know how Rankin will top this — I’m not sure how easy it’ll be to equal it.

—–

5 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

Let it Bleed by Ian Rankin

Let it BleedLet it Bleed

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #7

Hardcover, 287 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 1996

Read: August 9 – 10, 2017

He stood there shivering after the warmth of the pub and his car. He was a few yards from where the boys had jumped. The area was cordoned off with metal barriers, anchored by sandbags. Two yellow metal lamps marked off the danger area. Someone had climbed over the barriers and laid a small wreath next to the broken rail, weighing it down with a rock so it wouldn’t be blown away. He looked up at the nearest of the two vast supports, red lights blinking at its summit as a warning to aircraft. He didn’t really feel very much, except a bit lonely and sorry for himself. The Forth was down there, as judgmental as Pilate. It was funny the things that could kill you: water, a ship’s hull, steel pellets from a plastic case. It was funny that some people actually chose to die.

“I could never do it,” Rebus said out loud. “I couldn’t kill myself.”

Which didn’t mean he hadn’t thought of it. It was funny the things you thought about some nights. It was all so funny, he felt a lump forming in his throat. It’s only the drink, he thought. It’s the drink makes me maudlin. It’s only the drink.

Yeah, right.

Before we get to this moment of self-deception (or self-mockery, it could go either way with his sense of humor), we’re treated to what’s quite possibly the most action-packed few pages in the series thus far — more happens in the first 6 pages of this novel than can happen in chapters of Rebus novels. Two suspected kidnappers are leading the police on a high-speed chase, and no one’s relishing it more than Chief Inspector Frank Lauderdale. No one’s hating it more than Inspector John Rebus. Things go really bad from there, but not in the way that anyone expects (least of all the reader, as jaded as we might be from too many crime novels).

While the police are still trying to sort out what exactly happened there, a man walks into a (poorly attended) public meeting with a Councilman and shoots himself in front of the Councilman. Once Rebus visits the widow, something starts bugging him. There’s just something wrong with that suicide (more than just what has to be wrong to lead to a suicide). Rebus starts asking some questions. Before he realizes it, he’s investigating two incidents of suicide connected to two Councilmen.

And then pressure comes down on Rebus to stop. Which works about as well as you’d think. He’s “encouraged” to take a few days of leave, which he uses to dive in without restraints to get his answers. This series as dabbled in political intrigue, power brokering and the like before, Let it Bleed takes it up a notch. What can happen to Rebus if he falters — or what can happen to him if he makes all the right people happy — shows that he’s in a whole other league now.

And then after all the action at the beginning of the novel, Rankin gives us an incredibly talky ending. And it works. Not many novels about police officers or detectives end with as much dialogue, as many meetings, as this does, but it’s entirely satisfying. No one’ll be sitting there for the last couple of chapters just wishing for a car chase, a gun fight, or anything like that. Rebus being smarter, wilier, and unwilling to bend is what makes this ending not only inevitable, but just what the reader needs.

There are a lot of criminals in this novel, but most of them aren’t your typical mystery novel “bad guys.” They’re guys who take advantage of the system, manipulate the system, and then try to protect their assets (that last one is the most problematic). There are textbook villains — and not all of them pay for it — but with Rebus around, you know that some justice will be meted out.

Our favorites are back — so is Patience — Rebus’ daughter’s back in Edinburgh, on her own now. Siobhan Clarke, Farmer Watson, Gill Templer, and Brian Holmes all are involved. Clarke is the most interesting, yet again, her determinism and ability to stay (pretty much) in line with her superiors while helping Rebus make her a fun character to spend time with. She’s more involved in these cases than she has been in the past — and it’s good to see Rebus having someone allied with him. Thankfully, she’s a good police officer, too. Because, honestly, Rebus is a horrible police detective. He’s just too much of a lone wolf, too intuitive, not the kind of detective you want building a case for you. With Templer, Farmer and Clarke around, at least he’s got some good, capable help.

A gripping, tense, intriguing, and frequently funny, novel. Let it Bleed is just a great book. This series has been growing on me, little by little for seven books now, that’s pretty clear. Let it Bleed is above and beyond the best of the bunch, and I am looking forward to what’s coming up.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Mortal Causes by Ian Rankin

Mortal CausesMortal Causes

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #6
Hardcover, 310 pg.
Minotaur Books, 1994
Read: July 15 – 18, 2017

When he’d washed his eyes last night, it had been like washing behind them as well. Always it came to this, he tried to do things by the books and ended up cooking them instead. It was easier, that was all. Where would the crime detection rates be without a few shortcuts?

Before Rebus gets to his shortcuts, he’s called to investigate a homicide. A particularly grisly one, reminiscent of some that Rebus saw in Northern Ireland when he was serving there.

It’s his familiarity with that execution that gets him loaned to a special squad also investigating the homicide, especially as it seems tied into some gun smuggling. Rebus isn’t pleased at all to be the new guy — much less, the temporary new guy — on a team, as much as he seems to appreciate some of the individuals on the team (while others make him think more fondly of Chief Inspector Lauderdale). The investigation takes him to Northern Ireland to collect some intelligence, to a dangerous neighborhood, and he brushes up against an American who’s funneling guns of all kinds to (and through) Edinburgh.

In the midst of all of this, Rebus has some drama in his personal life — nothing involving his tenants or brother, but things with Patience Aitken aren’t going as smoothly as one might want (are they ever?) — and there’s another woman who has Rebus in her sights (the guy isn’t a catch, from what I can tell — how does this happen so regularly?).

Throw in an appearance by Big Ger Cafferty while the bodies are piling up and you’ve got yourself a story.

I’m not sure why I don’t have much to say about this one. Maybe because we live on this side of the Good Friday Agreement? But that doesn’t seem to ring true. Rebus is Rebus, Clarke is Clarke, Holmes is Holmes, Farmer Watson is off the wagon, but still pushing his bad coffee . . . the new squad ha some interesting characters, but we don’t spend much time with them. There are some great and colorful characters we brush into during the investigation, too. I don’t know. I liked it, but I can’t think of anything to say beyond that.

There’s a lot to commend in this novel, from great lines like: “He’d had wrong hunches before, enough for a convention of the Quasimodo fan club”; to the wide-ranging sources of trouble for Rebus; to the horrible history and equally horrible present behind the crimes — this is a solid and haunting novel. Something about this was a little off, I’m not sure what — at least as I think back on it, it doesn’t seem as fully developed as the last two. But in the moment I was gripped. I’m not saying that this isn’t fine, I just know Rankin can do better.

—–

3.5 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

The Black Box by Ian Rankin

I thought I’d scheduled this for yesterday, well, I’d intended to, but I typo’ed the date. So, hey, enjoy a bonus post to make up for the recent bits of silence.

The Black BookThe Black Book

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #5

Hardcover, 278 pg.
O. Penzler Books, 1994

Read: June 2 – 5, 2017


As interesting and well-written as the mystery in this novel was, as I think about the book, I have a hard time thinking about it — the non-case material dominates the book, and seems more important for the series as a whole. Which is kind of a shame — there’s a lot to be mined in this case, and we didn’t get enough of it. A famous — and infamous — local hotel burns down, and one body is recovered. This man didn’t die in the fire, but was shot dead before it started. There were so few clues left that the case had been long considered unsolved and unsolvable. Five years later, John Rebus starts reviewing the files and talking to people involved (getting himself in hot water for it). I really wanted more of it — and the people Rebus talked to about this case.

So what made this book interesting? Well, Rebus got into this case because Brian Holmes was attacked off duty one night. It’s suggested that this is because of some extra-curricular investigations he’d been running. The only thing that Rebus has to follow-up that claim is Holmes’ black notebook, full of his personal code. Rebus can almost crack one set of notes which points him at the hotel fire and the killing involved. While Holmes’ recuperates, Rebus takes it upon himself to finish the DS’ work.

We meet DC Siobahn Clarke here — Rebus’ other junior detective. She’s driven, she’s tough, she’s English, educated and careful. Most of what Rebus isn’t. She’s got a good sense of humor and duty — both of which make her one of my favorite characters in this series almost immediately (second only to Rebus).

The big thing is our meeting Morris Gerald “Big Ger” Cafferty – we’d brushed up against him in Tooth & Nail. Big Ger is possibly the biggest, baddest criminal in Edinburgh, and it seems that Rebus will go toe to toe with him a few times. He’s both a source of information (for Rebus, anyway) as well as a target for the police (including Rebus, in a couple of directions in just this book) — for both the cold case and current operations. He’s dangerous, and yet not at all — I think spending time with him in the future will be a hoot.

Lastly, Rebus’ brother is out on parole, having served a decent amount of time behind bars. More than that, he’s crashing with his brother. Family awkwardness (to put it mildly) ensues. I’m not sure he’s someone I want to spend more time with, but something tells me that Rankin has good plans for the character. Meanwhile, Clarke and Cafferty are characters I want more of right now.

A solid mystery novel — with a conclusion I didn’t see coming (to at least one of the mysteries_ — with a lot of great stuff going on at the same time. This one’s a keeper.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge