The Tzer Island book blog features book reviews written by TChris, the blog's founder.  I hope the blog will help readers discover good books and avoid bad books.  I am a reader, not a book publicist.  This blog does not exist to promote particular books, authors, or publishers.  I therefore do not participate in "virtual book tours" or conduct author interviews.  You will find no contests or giveaways here.

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Entries in Ian Rankin (3)


In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin

First published in the UK in 2018; published by Little, Brown and Company on December 31, 2018

A dead body in the trunk of a car, ankles handcuffed together, brings John Rebus out of retirement (again). In 2006, he investigated the disappearance of private investigator Stuart Bloom. Rebus and the other assigned police detectives caught quite a bit of flack for botching the investigation. The dead body that has just been discovered is Bloom’s. Siobhan Clarke is assigned to the team that investigates Bloom’s death. Malcolm Fox is assigned to examine the adequacy of the original investigation.

Ian Rankin offers a full plate of suspects. Two business rivals, one of whom hired Bloom to investigate the other, are primary suspects. Bloom’s lover was the son of a Glasgow police detective. The lover and his father are both suspects. And then there are some gangsters and some people who hung out at a gay club and an overlapping group of people who were part of the local movie industry, Bloom having appeared as an extra in a low-budget horror film before he disappeared.

A couple of cops who investigated Bloom’s disappearance later investigated unfounded complaints against Clarke. One of those cops was employed after hours by one of the business rivals. Their presence contributes to personality clashes and increases the number of suspects who might have done in Bloom.

A subplot involves nuisance calls to Clarke that she assumes are related to a case that she recently closed. Rebus begins nosing into a closed murder investigation as a result of those calls. What he finds leads to a challenging question — when is justice best served by allowing the truth about a crime to remain concealed?

Rebus is interesting because, when he was still on the force, his approach to law enforcement was unorthodox. He got results, but by modern standards, his habit of trading favors with criminals and of protecting his friends is considered bad form. Of course, the true bad guys in this story (apart from the person who killed Bloom) are the dirty cops who hypocritically investigate other cops while covering up their own transgressions. They make Rebus look good by comparison.

The plot is intricate, as a Rankin fan would expect. Everything ties together by the end in ways that make sense. That’s become uncommon in the modern world of crime novels. Rankin also avoids chase scenes and preposterous coincidences and the other pitfalls that mar most of today's thrillers. His technique is to create a mystery and allow the characters he has crafted so carefully over the years to go about their business. Each novel adds a bit of character development (this one suggests the possibility of a romance between Fox and Tess Leighton) while allowing the reader to enjoy the interaction of characters who remain fond of each other, no matter how infuriated at each other they might become.



Rather Be the Devil by Ian Rankin

First published in the UK in 2016; published by Little, Brown and Company on January 31, 2017

Having taken an unwanted pension, Rebus is contemplating the unhealthy results of a life spent smoking, drinking beer, and brooding over unsolved crimes. Not one to let a bit of lung cancer get him down, Rebus begins to nose around after learning from Siobhan Clarke that gangster Darryl Christie has been roughed up. A rival gangster is also interested in learning who attacked Christie.

Darryl Christie and Joe Stark are suspected of doing away with a rogue cop who nearly did away with Malcolm Fox when he was still with Professional Standards. Now Fox is a Detective Inspector in Major Crimes whose first assignment is to learn what he can about Christie’s beating without stepping on the toes of DI Clarke, who is heading the investigation in Edinburgh.

All of this leads Rebus to look into a closed case involving the death of Maria Turquand. Bruce Collier, lead singer for a popular band in the 1970s, was among the persons questioned, but one of Maria’s lovers was deemed the most likely suspect (her wealthy banker husband having been ruled out by virtue of an alibi). There are, of course, several other suspects, given the number of people associated with a band and the fact that Maria was killed in the hotel where the band was staying.

The cold case had last been reviewed by DI Robert Chatham. The review was prompted by a writer who specialized in books about unsolved crimes. They both become important characters who contribute to a subplot in addition to the main story.

The story branches off to encompass a Ukranian gangster, an assortment of British gangsters, Fox’s gambling-addicted sister, money laundering, and an assortment of beatings, killings, and snitchings. The plot is complex but not confusing (although it does tax the memory and might require a bit of note-taking to keep track of all the suspects). As a Rankin fan would expect, the plot resolution is clever.

Occasional references to folk and rock musicians from the UK had me drifting to YouTube to get a sense of the music that surrounds the story. Some of it isn’t bad. Rebus particularly likes Rory Gallagher, whose “concept album” Kickback City includes -- surprise, surprise -- a contribution by Ian Rankin. No surprise, then, that Rebus plays Kickback City on his car stereo.

As always, unexpected bits of humor enliven the novel, usually in the form of dialog. Characterization and plotting are always strengths in a Rankin novel. Rather Be the Devil is no exception. It’s a solid entry in a dependable series.



Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin

Published by Little, Brown and Company on January 14, 2014

John Rebus is a traditional old school cop, the kind often admired by fans of police procedurals ... so admired, in fact, that Saints of the Shadow Bible is the nineteenth Rebus novel. Rebus drinks too much, he's no good at relationships and even less good at following orders or respecting the chain of command, but his instincts for crime are sound and he's a relentless investigator. When he manages to remain employed, he solves crimes. Rebus is employed in Saints of the Shadow Bible, although his role as Detective Sergeant is a step down from the Detective Inspector position he once held -- and his ability to retain his warrant card until the end of the novel is once again called into question.

Jessica Traynor's one-car accident hardly seems to merit the attention of DI Siobhan Clarke and DS Rebus, but Jessica's father is well-connected. A routine inspection of the scene raises doubt that Jessica was driving when her car left the road. Jessica doesn't want to talk about it but Rebus and Clarke soon focus their attention on her boyfriend, Forbes McCuskey, whose father happens to be Justice Minister. Complications ensue.

The novel's title comes from Rebus' days at Summerhall, where he started as a Detective Constable. All Summerhall detectives belonged to the Saints of the Shadow Bible. The Saints were less than saintly when it came to police work. One of their cases involved a murder suspect who beat the rap, perhaps because he was a police informant. Thirty years later, Scotland having loosened its protection against double jeopardy, the Solicitor General plans to revive the case, which means investigating the surviving Saints. Nick Fox, an interesting character who is charged with that task, initially meets with the usual derision earned by cops who police cops but eventually turns into a central (and quite likable) character. Fox appeared in a couple of his own novels before Ian Rankin added him to the cast of the previous Rebus novel.

All of this takes place against a political background in which characters line up as favoring Scotland's independence or opposing its separation from the UK. One of the prominent political players is a former Saint of the Shadow Bible and has a great deal to lose if the new investigation reveals anything untoward about his conduct. The political conflict adds an interesting dimension to the novel.

Rebus has a pleasantly gruff and abrasive personality that has attracted a loyal readership. Rankin walks a fine line between creating a mean-spirited (and thus unlikable) character and one who is merely acerbic and sarcastic (and thus funny). The ultimate mystery (who committed the 30-year-old murder?) requires the unraveling of several other mysteries. Rankin juggles a number of plot threads but never drops any of them. None of the resolutions are particularly surprising but they don't need to be. The story is satisfying and following Rebus through the course of an investigation is always an enjoyable stroll.