Archive for the ‘Ian Rankin’ Category

P1030783Crime Scraps was started in September 2006, and I don’t know what is the average life of a blog, but I think it is well into adulthood by now. My original plan was to have a record of the books I had read, and to bring to the attention of any readers two series of detective books. The first was the ten book Martin Beck series Story of a Crime by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, of which I had read about six during the 1970s and 1980s, and I had searched second hand book shops for the remaining books with little success. The second was the Salvo Montalbano series by Andrea Camilleri which I had recently discovered. 

I remember three years later charging into a WH Smith in the company of a distinguished translator of Scandinavian crime fiction, and finding only one of his books on display at the back. But within a few months Scandinavian crime fiction was all over the shelves in every type of retail outlet that sold books. And now we have had various Wallanders, Sarah Lund, and numerous other Nordic shows on TV, as well as Montalbano and Young Montalbano representing Italian crime fiction and Spiral from France with its distinctive Gallic approach.  I therefore decided to go back and spend a few weeks reading some of the crime writers who had me hooked years ago, and have read thirteen books since my holiday reading roundup.

I read and scored with star ratings:

Feast Day of Fools**, Pegasus Descending**, and Sunset Limited*** by James Lee Burke,

A Guilty Thing Surprised** and Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter*** by Ruth Rendell,

A German Requiem*** and The One from the Other*** by Philip Kerr,

The Hanging Garden*** by Ian Rankin,

Recalled to Life*****, Pictures of Perfection***** and The Wood Beyond*****by Reginald Hill,

The Scent of Death*** by Andrew Taylor [winner of the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger]

The Windsor Faction***** by D.J.Taylor [reviewed at Euro Crime]  

So what did I learn from reading and re-reading these books. Well some authors were not as good as I remembered and others made a fresh impression that encouraged me to read more of their output. Some of the writers produced such worthy messages that it made up for their over convoluted repetitive plots. But above all I came to the conclusion Reginald Hill was an outstanding crime writer coming up with new fresh ways to write interesting crime novels. I particularly liked his Dickensian Recalled to Life, his very clever Austen like Pictures of Perfection, and one that I had read a while ago Midnight Fugue, a parody/pastiche of the TV series 24 Hours.

Andrew Taylor’s The Scent of Death was well written, with a very atmospheric  setting in 1777 Revolutionary New York, and a good read, but was it any better, and did it have as strong a moral message as  the other contenders for the Ellis Peters Award. This was the third time Andrew Taylor has won this award and I sometimes think that winning the award is a major factor in repeat wins. I am not singling out Andrew Taylor for any criticism, because there are transatlantic authors who regularly win awards every year, and when I have read a sample of their work I have found it far less worthy than The Scent of Death. Even a great Fred Vargas fan such as I still cannot understand the thinking behind her win in 2009 over a strong field which contained books by Johan Theorin,  Arnaldur Indridason, Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo and Karin Alvtegen.

I have some new translated crime fiction to read and hopefully will be able to produce some full reviews, but I will end my catch up with a quote from Reginald Hill’s Recalled to Life, which begins with a murder in that watershed year of 1963, when an American president was assassinated, a British government fell, and a young innocent went off to university. 

Up to nineteen sixty-three it was still possible for thinking men to believe in progress. A just war had been fought and won, and this time the result would be, if not a land fit for heroes, at least a society fit for humans. We who grew up in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies and came to our maturity in the dreadful ‘eighties have seen the destruction of that dream without ever having the joy of dreaming it. Recalled to Life; Reginald Hill 1992     

51WrzjbXCpL._SL500_AA300_pickofthemonth2012I read more books last month than I ever thought possible. The weather kept us in a lot of the time, and many of the books were easy to read, and only one was near 500 pages. There were two non-fiction books as well as six crime fiction:

The Fall of France-The Nazi Invasion of 1940: Julian Jackson

I have read several accounts of this debacle including the classic 1969 book by Alistair Horne, To Lose a Battle: France 1940. I hope the current Franco-British alliance is more successful in their latest adventures in Francophone Africa, but I doubt it.

Interestingly in 1931 Time magazine chose the “calm, masterful” Pierre Laval as Man of the Year. He was Prime Minister of France four times. The collapse of France in 1940, and subsequent armistice, lead to the establishment in unoccupied France of the Vichy regime. After the Allied victory Pierre Laval was found guilty of high treason and executed by firing squad in 1945.

The Real Jane Austen-A life in small things: Paula Byrne

We have just passed the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice so I thought this book was an appropriate read to mark this important date in English literature. The book is full of interesting anecdotes and details about life in the Georgian and Regency period, and many of the sites associated with Jane Austen and mentioned in the book have a special significance for us.

We would frequently stop at the Jane Austen Museum at Chawton, in Hampshire, to break our journey down from London to Gosport visiting my in laws. This was in the early 1980s well before the Colin Firth TV production created a new following for Mr Darcy and Jane Austen’s books. Many years ago my wife lived in Winchester, where Jane lived her last few weeks and is buried in the cathedral. My son went to university in Bath, where Jane lived from 1801-1806 and where she set two of her novels, and I worked in Teignmouth for 15 years, where Jane holidayed in 1802. Our first holiday was at Lyme Regis, where Jane and her family visited in 1803, and 1804, and where Louisa Musgrave falls from some steps on the Cobb in Persuasion. 

Well that’s enough literary stuff for one post. The crime fiction books I read were:

Standing in Another Man’s Grave: Ian Rankin 

Spies of Warsaw: Alan Furst

Blessed Are Those Who Thirst: Anne Holt 

Perfect Hatred: Leighton Gage

Linda, As In The Linda Murder: Leif G.W. Persson  [a review will appear at Euro Crime in due course]

Gone Girl: Gillian Flynn [I will be posting about this phenomenon in the next few days]

Some very good reads but the best by a whisker was Linda, As In The Linda Murder by Leif G.W. Persson. 

SiAMGraveian_photoRebus is back! When I finished reading Ian Rankin’s The Complaints featuring his new cop Malcolm Fox I was fairly certain that at some stage he would bring back that loveable old rogue, John Rebus.

Rebus is retired from the police but working as a civilian employee in Lothian & Borders Serious Crime Review unit. This is where old cops go to fade away. The unit is on notice as their boss Detective Sergeant  Daniel Cowan, still a serving officer and not happy about being stuck with the geriatrics, is applying for the job at the national cold case unit that will take over their workload. Rebus is persuaded by the attractive Nina Hazlitt, whose daughter disappeared on New Year’s Eve 1999, that there is connection between several similar cases of disappearances of young women in the vicinity of the A9 road north of Edinburgh. Rebus along with his former colleague Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke begins an investigation into a possible serial killer operating in the area.

Ian Rankin appeared at Crime Fest a few years ago, and charmed his audience of crime fiction fans. His frequent television appearances are always interesting. His pleasant personality as well as the character of Rebus is the great selling point of his books. But I thought it was a little sad that Standing in Another Man’s Grave showed that while Rebus was still the insubordinate old dinosaur living off whisky and takeaways, and had lost little of his energy over the years; Rankin himself had lost a little inspiration when it came to plotting and creating new characters. The title comes from a misheard line in a Jackie Leven song “Standing in another man’s rain”. It seems as if the plot was made to fit the title, rather than the title arising naturally out of  the narrative.  

Of course the character of Rebus can carry a book even if the plot is shaky, for the most part  it isn’t, apart from a lot of driving around Northern Scotland and two subplots that seem strained and slow the action. These are firstly, a struggle between Rebus old nemesis Cafferty, and a couple of other gangsters, the old veteran Frank Hammell and the brother of one of the victims the young computer literate Darryl Christie. This is probably meant to emphasise Rebus own difficulties fitting in with the new police force and new methods. The second sub plot involves Malcolm Fox investigating Rebus. This just does not work as Fox, quite a nice character in The Complaints, comes over just as another bitter twisted internal affairs cop trying to pull down a real detective.

Despite these minor quibbles and the “Mad as a March Hare” risky scheme that Rebus pulls to finally get the perpetrator I enjoyed reading this book. Rebus does not bother with forensics, evidence, or DNA, he relies on an old copper’s hunch, and that is part of his charm, that and his humour and an insubordinate attitude we would all like to emulate.

Dempsey pointed at him, but her eyes were on Page. ‘I want him gone, do you hear me?’

‘Loud and clear,’ Page responded.

Dempsey was already getting back into the car. Her driver starting to pull away.

‘Thanks for backing me up there, boss,’ Rebus commented. 

Read the late Maxine Clarke’s Review of Standing in Another Man’s Grave here  

The only books by Ian Rankin I had read were Strip Jack, Resurrection Men, Fleshmarket Close and The Naming of the Dead. Therefore when the Scottish author bravely retired his aging detective Detective Inspector John Rebus, and started a new series I knew I must eventually read The Complaints. Would his new protagonist be as interesting a character as Rebus?

The narrative of The Complaints develops over a couple of weeks in February 2009. This was the period when the economy collapsed and Scotland’s capital city Edinburgh, the headquarters of several major banks, was suffering from the worst of a property price implosion and the disruption from a project  for a tram system that would cost millions. 

Inspector Malcolm Fox works in ‘Complaints and Conduct’, the cops who look into both minor and major infractions of the rules by the police. Fox works in the Professional Standards Unit  who deal with the most serious matters such as racism and corruption. They are naturally very unpopular with their colleagues, who regard them as beneath contempt. At the start of the story Fox has successfully wound up an enquiry into the activities of Glen Heaton , a CID detective who has been bending the rules for many years. Fox has sent the case evidence on to the Procurator Fiscal, the official who decides on prosecutions in Scotland. 

Malcolm Fox is a policeman in his forties, he is divorced, wears unfashionable braces, is teetotal because he is an ex-alcoholic, has a sister Jude with a violent boyfriend, and an aging father Mitch living in an expensive care home. Is there any other kind? He listens to the birdsong station on the radio, eats Chinese takeaways or curry, and spends his leisure time not rearranging his books on his bookshelves. Fox is ordered to liaise with Annie Inglis at CEOP [Child Exploitation and Online Protection] and assist with an investigation into a worldwide child pornography ring  apparently involving a local detective, Jamie Breck. Breck’s credit card has been used to join the ring, but he hasn’t yet sent any of  images to the group. Is Jamie Breck a paedophile, or a victim of an online scam? 

The situation becomes extremely complicated when Jude’s violent partner Vince Faulkner is found brutally murdered and Breck is one of the detectives assigned to the case, along with his boss Billy Giles, a close friend of Glen Heaton. 

Up to this point the story had gripped me, and I was even ready to go straight on to the sequel The Impossible Dead. Rankin had set the scene brilliantly, as he knows his territory and his cops. But then suddenly the story went wildly off at a tangent with the reader bombarded with a plethora of fairly standard crime fiction characters. Property developers, cops, robbers, tough men and glamourous women all mixed up in a complex plot, with Fox not able to trust anyone.

The woman who stepped out was wearing high heels, black tights and a black knee-length skirt. The skirt clung to her. White silk blouse open at the neck to show a pendant of some kind. 

There is nothing extravagant about Rankin’s prose, or his terse dialogue.

Kaye paused, angling his head towards the newspaper.

‘ She’s a looker, though-wonder what first attracted her to the pot-bellied, balding tycoon.’

I know Ian Rankin is a Scottish icon, and even mild criticism appears to be  like trying to reverse the result of the Battle of Bannockburn, but in my opinion this book was a little too long, had too convoluted a plot without any real surprises, and the conclusion was frankly unbelievable. 

It was a great pity because Malcolm Fox was a likeable character and had a lot of potential. Rankin is an easy read, and the descriptions of the dark side of the city and the social comment were excellent. Perhaps I was expecting more from such an experienced crime fiction writer, whose frequent television appearances I enjoy so much. I got the impression he had tangled up the various plot threads and then he struggled to unravel and explain them in the last hundred pages.

Interestingly I read the other day that Ian Rankin is bringing back Rebus ………….. 


I respect other reviewers who might have enjoyed this book a lot more than I did. But what I find mildly irritating is those reviewers who appear to have read an entirely different book. For instance the newspaper review which boldly states that “Fox copes admirably with whatever Rankin throws at him: getting beaten up, being suspended from duty, a romance with a colleague.”  If what occurs in the pages of The Complaints between Annie Inglis and Malcolm Fox can be regarded as a “romance” then life must be incredibly dull north of the border.