Monthly Archives: January 2016

Book five: Hide and Seek #Rankin

A junkie is found dead in a squat on one of Edinburgh’s sink estates. Laid out in a cross-like position, there are candles placed around him and a five-pointed star has been painted on the living room wall. Something about the case just doesn’t make sense to Rebus and as he begins his investigation it leads him to a dark and sleazy underworld of Edinburgh.

For this blog, rather than review the book I wanted to share the Introduction by Ian Rankin which is included in the 2008 re-publication of the book. I find it very interesting to hear an author speak about their work, their inspirations, influences and growth. In this introduction Rankin discusses things that influenced the writing of Hide and Seek, the interesting part being the influences he has only become aware of on reflection, for example the impact of his time spent living in London on his writing. It is also interesting to hear about how Rebus has grown and changed for Rankin. Across the years and many books Rankin has refined his main character, although refined is probably the wrong word as he remains rough around the edges.

I hope you enjoy reading Rankin’s thoughts as much I did.

Hide and Seek

An Introduction by Ian Rankin

A year or two after Hide and Seek was published, there was a break-in at Edinburgh’s police headquarters. Among the items rumoured to have been stolen was a list of names, the names of men prominent in Edinburgh society. Allegations had been made against these men, allegations that they had been using rent boys, leaving themselves open to blackmail, and a police inquiry had been instituted. There were enough similarities between the real-life case and aspects of my novel that people stopped me in the street to ask how I’d know so much so soon. I would explain that my sources had to be protected.

There were no sources, of course: I’d made the story up.

I saw Hide and Seek very much as a companion piece to Knots and Crosses. Reviewers had failed to pick up on the earlier book’s use of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as a template. I was determined to try once more to drag Stevenson’s story back to its natural home of Edinburgh and to update the theme for a modern-day audience. In fact, the book’s eventual working title was ‘Hyde and Seek’, but only after I’d ditched ‘Dead Beat’ (at the behest of my agent, to whom the book was eventually dedicated). The final version of Hide and Seek opens with a quote from Jekyll and Hyde and goes on to use quotes from Stevenson’s book at the opening of each section. Moreover, I lifted many of the character names directly from Stevenson’s masterpiece – Enfield, Poole, Carew, Lanyon – while Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde provides Detective Inspector Rebus with his night-time reading, when he’s not busy mulling over his latest case.

Not that I was keen for readers to get the connection or anything…

Between Knots and Crosses and the events of Hide and Seek, Rebus has been promoted from detective sergeant – his one and only promotion in the series so far. Other changes have taken place. Rebus has a new sidekick called Brian Holmes (a none-too-subtle nod to another Edinburgh writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). And Edinburgh is changing, too, as new money moves in. The book was written in 1988 and 1989. By then, I was living in London, at the height of Thatcherism. Red braces and Moet were all the rage. In some wine bars, rising property values seemed to be the only currency of conversation. I’d been living in London a couple of years and not making much of a go of it. My wife and I lived in a maisonette in Tottenham, and have failed to find full-time writing a lucrative enough proposition, I was working as a magazine journalist in Crystal Palace, entailing a three-hour commute each weekday. I seemed to be surrounded by people more successful than me, people with fat salaries or five-figure publishing deals. My situation at the time seem to me now to explain the bitted edge to much of the writing in Hide and Seek, and is reflected in Brian Holmes’s memories of his few student months in London (‘a season spent in hell’, as he himself remembers it).

The novel did not come hard on the heels of Knots and Crosses: there had been two other novels in between. One was a spy adventure, Watchman; the other, Westwind, was my attempt at a techno-thriller. The latter, however, was struggling to find a publisher of any kind, which the former had sold a scant five hundred copies in hardcover. Hide and Seek was actually begun in the summer of 1988, but failed to make much headway. My job got in the way, as did attempts to turn my first novel, The Flood, into a useable screenplay, and various frustrating efforts to get work as a scriptwriter on The Bill. I was also reviewing books most weeks for a new broadsheet called Scotland on Sunday.

One other reason why I may have held back on a second Rebus novel: plans had been afoot to film the first one, with Leslie Grantham (Dirty Den in EastEnders) as Rebus. This plan eventually fell through in January 1989. My guess had been than Grantham would want the action of Knots and Crosses relocated to London. Now that he would not be taking Rebus to the screen, I felt free to write a second Edinburgh-based adventure for my character. The final draught of the book was completed in May.

It’s a less overwrought work than its predecessor, the prose leaner, though the Rebus we meet is still not the fully formed character of later books. For one thing, he’s still too well-read quoting from Walt Whitman – someone I’d studied at university but of whom Rebus couldn’t really be expected to have had knowledge.   He also quotes from the Romantic poets and listens to Radio 3 in his car. On his hi-fi at home, there’s jazz, but also The Beatles’ White Album (I’d soon have him preferring the Stones). My own time as a hi-fi journalist is reflected in the expensive Linn turntable owned by one character, while a scene inside the library at the University of Edinburgh takes Holmes to the fifth floor, which I’d haunted during my three years as a postgraduate student.

There are other literary references in the book: to James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner and to the poet George MacBeth, who had shared a writers’ retreat with me a couple of years before. A character from The Flood pops up in the first few pages, and Rebus and Holmes both visit the west-central Fife, where the inspector and I grew up. It’s noticeable to me now that Rebus in particular is not as cynical about his old hunting ground as he was when paying his respects in Knots and Crosses. Maybe enough of my spleen had been vented. London was the enemy now – London, and the harsh materialism I seemed to have found there.

Besides, I had many happy memories of my childhood, memories rekindled by the death of my father in February 1990, while I was in the midst of proofreading Hide and Seek. By the time the book was ready for publication, Miranda and I had decidedly had enough of London and Mrs Thatcher. We were making plans to live in France, praying that my writing would start earning enough to turn the dream into a reality. And once we’d left Tottenham behind,    I’d be able to put some of my own feelings about the capital into words, by taking John Rebus to London on a case.

A case that would become Tooth and Nail.

A final word to the wise: there’s a question of sorts left hanging at the end of Hide and Seek. The curious will find an answer – also of sorts – at the end of chapter four of Resurrection Men. I only realised it was there when I reread the book recently. Don’t say I never share anything…


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Book four: The Magician’s Nephew #Lewis

Set in the 1900 The Magician’s Nephew is the first sequential story in the Chronicles of Narnia series, although it was the sixth of seven novels published. The book follows the adventures of Polly and Digory as they find themselves magically transported to other magical worlds and witness the birth of Narnia.

I intend over the coming months to re-read all of the books and will write my full review on completion of the series as I feel there are wider themes to be discussed which traverse all seven books.

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Book three: The Maltese Falcon #Hammett

Within minutes of beginning The Maltese Falcon I was struck by how archetypal film noir this book is. I couldn’t help but picture it all happening in black and white. The cold detached narrative, the breathless female characters; the roguish lead detective figure of Sam Spade, the whole book could have been a story within Sin City. Whilst today this is a format we are familiar it is important to remember that Dashiell Hammett’s novel is consider a first of its kind, this is the book that created that genre.

Set in the hilly, windy city of San Francisco in the lat2 1920s, Private detectives Sam Spade and Miles Archer are hired by a young woman to follow a man, Thursby, who has allegedly run off with her sister. That night Archer is found dead, killed by a single gunshot. Later that night Spade is visited by two police officers who report that Thursby has also been killed and Spade is currently their prime suspect – motivation revenge. Visiting his client Spade learns that there is no sister and she is caught up in a complicated situation centred on a figurine of a black bird. Over the subsequent days others arrive on the scene making a claim to the black bird and Spade finds himself tricked, lied to and used as the seductive Miss O’Shaunghnessy, wimpy Joel Cairo and the wealthy cunning Casper Gutman fight it out. Who will come out triumphant, why so much fuss over a black bird and who did kill Miles Archer?

I struggled with this book. The writing is now so stereotypical of the trench coat 1940s detective novels that it felt mimicked and I had to keep reminding myself of the age of the book.

The portrayal of women in the book is frustrating; regardless of their independence and resourcefulness we find all of them hooked on our leading man Spade ready to batter their eyelashes at the slightest hint of attention.

The leading lady is Brigid O’Shaughnessy. She is seductive and mysterious knowing exactly how to get Spade to do her bidding. Such a competent show artist even other women fall foul of her performance, Spade’s secretary is quite confident throughout the book that she is the real deal and victim of the plot. Miss O’Shaughnessy is without a doubt the classic femme fatale.   Our femme is balanced in the book and in Spade’s life by his ever ready down-to-earth, previously mentioned, secretary Effie Perine. This is a girl with gumption, always ready to help Spade. Whilst there is small element of flirtation and a question mark hanging over the pair she is in fact the only woman with whom he has a healthy and honest relationship with. The most frustrating female in the book is without a doubt Iva Miles, the wife of Spade’s partner, and Spade’s lover. She comes across throughout the book as needy, clingy and jealous; a dangerous combination when your lover is so easily distracted by a pretty face.

Our leading ladies are not portrayed in particularly positive lights with all of them demonstrating a weakness for the main man. For him, I’m inclined to say the ladies are interchangeable, he constantly keeps the women grouped together referring to them by impersonal names like darling. Is there a place in his life for any one woman?

Struggling with the writing style and frustrated by the female characters, what kept me reading? The Maltese Falcon at its heart is a good story, filled with lies and deceit, greed, violence and loyalty it could be mistaken for a Shakespeare play!

Sam Spade is a difficult character to like and yet I did feel compelled to stick with him and find out how the whole twisted situation was going to play out. Hammett does well to create suspense but the quite straightforward writing and narrator point of view makes this a quick and easy read. Hammett doesn’t get caught up inside the heads of his characters, keeping them at arm’s reach keeps us as observers not participants.

I know from other reviews there are different feelings on the ending. Without giving anything away I was kept guessing until the very last page and that’s a good thing in a crime novel. We start with a dark mysterious protagonist and well…we end in the same place not really knowing him any better, it couldn’t be better summed up than with a quote from the main man himself “You’ll never understand me,”.


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Book two: The Grown Up #Flynn

I wouldn’t normally choose a short story to read but I was given The Grownup by Gillian Flynn as a present. I wasn’t overly taken with Gone Girl, with all the hype that surrounded it and the film I really did find myself asking “what did I miss?” I just wasn’t that taken with it. However, given the shortness of this book I thought I’d give it a go.

So what’s it about?

Our narrator is a young woman who is making a living offering hand jobs and pretending to be a psychic. When the opportunity to make some money doing a house cleansing comes up she jumps at the chance. However, the home of Susan Burke is not all it seems. Our storyteller faces stark questions: who should be trusted, Susan or her step-son Miles? Who is the absent father? And what is the true history to Carterhook Manor?

I would say this is a book of 3 parts. The first part is our scene setting. Flynn establishes the independent sexually liberated status of our narrator. We know that she’s learnt from a small age to read people in order to manipulate for her own gain…sound familiar? Written after Gone Girl there are definitely some similarities between our narrator and Amy.

The second part of the story moves away from the narrator and focuses on the supernatural story at the heart of the story. Blood running down walls, creaking old houses, a melancholy teenager terrorising his step-mum what is the cause and can it be ousted by sage and rosemary. I’m not a big fan of traditional horror stories, I can’t cope with the suspension and was a little bit wary about where The Grownup was going. I needn’t have worried. Just as the plot thickens, the original family all slaughtered in this house, threats of death and floorboards slicing fingers Flynn makes the decision to wrap it all up. I guess that’s one of the problems with a short story.

The wrap up, or 3rd part of the book is a twist within a twist with just another turn to keep you on your toes. From the way it pans out I think we’re meant to be left on the edge of our seats wanting to know who or what was behind the spooking of Carterhook Manor but in fact I found myself not really caring, which is never a good thing.

Given its success I thought maybe I was too quick to judge Gone Girl but now having read a second book my Gilliam Flynn I stand by original thoughts and will be adding this to the pile of “don’t bother, not worth it” books I’ve read.

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Book one: Knots & Crosses #Rankin

Knots & Crosses originally published in 1987 is the first of the incredibly successful Inspector Rebus novels by Ian Rankin. I was introduced to the series during my teenage years by an uncle who had the entire collection. Now I’m introducing my husband to them and taking the opportunity to re-read them myself.

In this first book Edinburgh has been rocked by the abduction and subsequent killing of two young girls. To those investigating there appears to be no link between the girls and no clear motive. Throwing man power at the enquiry John Rebus along with a number of colleagues is assigned to the investigative team. As a side story we are also introduced to Rebus’ brother Michael, a cabaret show hypnotist, small time drug dealer and focus of journalist Jim Stevens’ next big story. Throughout the case, John is haunted by his past in the SAS and an unknown person is sending him notes with bits of string and crosses. With more girls being abducted and killed can John put together the pieces to prevent the killer getting to those John loves?

As my adult reading has progressed I’ve developed a fondness for books that are set in areas that I know and where authors are true to the geography. I like to be able to follow the movements of a story as it plots it way across a city. It’s one of the things I love about Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series. On re-reading Rankin’s first novel I’ve come to realise it is quite possibly within his pages that this liking developed.  In this first novel he creates a perfect picture of Edinburgh in the late 1980s, a city that is above others, is grander, more refined and certainly not a place where hard hitting crime, like the abduction and murder of little girls, takes place. Rankin treats Edinburgh with the same care and attention he does his main characters ensuring the reader sees depth to the city understands the different faces of the city and recognises that its part in the storyline is more than just a map for events to be played out on. Edinburgh is Rebus and vice versa.

It is very easy to paint the picture of John Rebus in your head. A troubled man, he is gruff, unkempt, a chain smoker (although trying to quit), a drinker of sorts and a man of few words. John Rebus is definitely not a people person, and yet, within that moodiness is a vulnerable man and it is this side of Rebus that makes him such a compelling lead character and makes us care about him. We forgive his surly behaviour, his grumpiness, his personal demons because at the heart of the book Rankin reveals to us that Rebus cares. What matters to him is solving the crime, not necessarily the working out.

I’ve purposely not talk about the story for two reasons, the first, I don’t want to give anything away and secondly, I believe the importance of this first book is as a gateway into the world of Rebus, it is the Foundation upon which mighty tales will be built.

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