Sunday, March 04, 2007

BOOK REVIEW - Knots & Crosses

Knots & Crosses
Ian Rankin
Orion, 2005
226 pgs.

The Mystery/Thriller aisle is not part of the bookstore I frequent when looking for more books to add to the ever growing stack of things I plan to read some day therefore even though I have heard of Ian Rankin and his John Rebus novels we had a very casual relationship. You know the sort of relationship you might have with another regular at a bar you frequent or the clerk at your usual gas station, you recognize one another enough to share a nod and a smile whenever you see them but that’s about it. Then I found myself stuffed full of fish and chips standing in Waverly Station confronted by a display of all of the Inspector Rebus novels. Being there in Edinburgh, the character’s very own city, and being the person I am I had to buy one of the books, the first one if it was there. Guess what? It was and now you get to read all about it.

I plowed through this book with almost disturbing speed, polishing it off in an evening of reading. This is not by way of saying the book is bad, in fact I quite enjoyed the book and will be stopping by Murder By the Book tomorrow after work to see if they have more of the Rebus novels published by Orion (they have a very nice design, matching spines and all, and I am OCD about that sort of thing.) At first glance two-hundred twenty-six pages does not seem like enough time to get to know a character and see him through a mystery, the brevity works just fine in Rankin’s hands. In this book the mystery merely serves as a framework for Rankin to hang scenes which illuminate the character of John Rebus, a character which I had expected to be the clichéd hard-drinking, divorced police detective. While he was these things in the story, Rebus is more than just the sum of his clichés and I found myself genuinely liking the guy and hoping he comes through everything.

As for the plot itself, which centers around the kidnappings and murders of four girls from wildly disparate backgrounds, it is fairly clear that this was Rankin’s first mystery and this is where having such a short novel worked against him. There is not enough time for Rankin to distract the readers with red herrings and ultimately meaningless characters, therefore you know that every place and person has some importance to the main thrust of the novel. This being the case I figured out the culprit fairly quickly after he was introduced and, to be honest, this is not something I am usually any good at doing. However since the novel is more about Rebus’ character and less about the mystery this did not detract from my pleasure at all.

All in all I really enjoyed this novel and I am looking forward to both reading more of the Inspector Rebus books and meeting Ian Rankin when he is in town signing books in a few months. I might even make a concerted effort to be all caught up on the Rebus novels by the time he gets here, although I doubt I will succeed.

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