The 4th book in the Rebus series sees our leading character back in Edinburgh and in a new relationship with Dr Patience Atkin. Rebus is without a doubt more comfortable in his native Edinburgh and in this book I would say he is at his most stable so far. That said, it wouldn’t be Rebus if there weren’t dark clouds up ahead and doubts about his future, or more specifically his and Patience’s future. Forever tied to his job and unable to put his love life first I found it amusing that a decision about whether to move in with Patience is weighted by whether he continues to be based at the Greater London Road police station or moved to St Leonards. For those who’ve read subsequent or more recent Rebus books…well you know the outcome.
Of the Rebus books so far I would say Strip Jack is the more straight forward “who dun nit” with a little bit of Rebus intuition thrown in. The book starts with a raid on an Edinburgh brothel, where amongst the many punters the police find a popular young MP Gregor Jack. Despite the secrecy of the raid upon exiting the building the road is lined with press. Something about this doesn’t sit well with Rebus, it just seems too lucky for the press to be there. When Jack’s wife Elizabeth disappears Rebus can’t help but feel there is a bigger game at foot and starts to explore the social and personal lives of Gregor and Elizabeth Jack and their friends. A disappearance becomes a murder. There is pressure on the police to quickly solve it but Rebus isn’t convinced they’re following the right line of enquiry. True to himself and like a dog with a bone Rebus won’t give up. Was Gregor Jack set up? Who can be trusted? Where was Elizabeth murdered? Step by step Rebus unravels the story in a way only he can.
Without becoming uncontrollable in twists and turns there are enough red herrings and sub-plots in Strip Jack to keep us all guessing. The cast is larger than previous books, giving Rankin an opportunity to develop more colourful and varied characters and in doing so giving Rebus more reflections to compare and judge himself against. With this book we are seeing a world evolve around the Inspector. In subsequent correspondence Ian Rankin has spoken about his decision with this book to take Rebus out of a fictional Edinburgh and into a more real one. In the short series so far geography and in particular Edinburgh and its surrounding areas have proven to be a key building block of the books. These books more so than any other series I have read place a city at its heart. Edinburgh is as much a reoccurring character as Brian Holmes, Gill Templer, “Farmer Watson” and in the later books Siobhan Clarke and “Big Ger Cafferty”. Whether it is the return from London, or this decision to make Edinburgh more real, in Strip Jack Rebus feels more grounded and secure in his role at the station, his stage in life and quite possibly in his romantic life.
It goes without saying that I’m a huge fan of Ian Rankin’s work, I wouldn’t be re-reading the series from start if I wasn’t. I really enjoyed this book and felt like you could feel Rankin getting to grips with his plot structure, character development and starting to bring multiple dimensions to his main man. A review of the book I recently read seemed to lament on the absence of the gruff, self-loathing critical rebel we know from later books. If you’re not reading the books in order I can understand why someone would question Rebus’ approach in this book but I would say to them, start at the beginning, travel with him, because only then can you truly understand the infuriating loner who wins the sympathy of readers time and time again.
The 3rd novel in the Detective Rebus series sees our lead seconded to London to assist with a hunt for a cannibalistic serial killer nicknamed the Wolfman. With his London colleagues less than pleased with his interference and distant connections between the case and his daughter Sammy’s new boyfriend Rebus needs to act quickly before the Wolfman’s taste for blood develops.
Having lived and worked in London for nearly a decade seeing Rebus work the boroughs and streets I’m more familiar with brought this story to life for me. In particular his description of the troubled no go housing estates in East London and the vibrant but faceless streets of Soho and Piccadilly. His grasp of places and ability to breathe life into them is a true literary skill.
This is the first of Rankin’s books where he starts to really explore the psychological make-up of his killer both through Rebus’s musings and more obviously through the assistance offered to the case by Lisa Frazer a student psychologist masking as a qualified Doctor who unintentionally marks herself out as a target for the crazed serial killer. Rankin also gives us the reader a deeper insight to the Wolfman through chapters dedicated to thekiller’s narrative. Exposed to the confused and tangled thoughts and actions of our serial killer Rankin is a master at making us think we know more than Rebus and yet leaving us completely in the dark as to the true nature, gender and identity of the Wolfman.
Tooth and Nail is also noted for the first reference of Morris Gerald Cafferty. Initially just a cameo role he will go on to become Rebus’s chief adversary and major league gangster in Edinburgh. I wonder if Rankin knew when Rebus went back to Scotland, in Tooth and Nail, to give evidence against Cafferty, that he would become such a major character in the subsequent books.
This is a fantastic mystery and like his previous novels Rankin has you turning page after page as your day just passes you by. Don’t start this if you have a to-do list because believe me you won’t get the chores done.
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.