Another Rankin! In the Complaints series: the main character is Malcom Fox, inspector at the “Complaints and Conduct Department”, investigating a case of corruption within the Force on the north side of the Forth, in Fife. Rankin builds on the history of Scottish violent nationalist groups in the 80′s to deliver a very convincing story, mixing as usual the unorthodox methods of an investigator with his personal life. Even though some tie-ins are a wee bit unrealistic and I do not buy the final (major) scene, I enjoyed reading the book over two or three days (between Chamonix, Geneva and Paris). Maybe due to the novelty of the character, there is no feeling of repetitiveness in this instalment. And the background is definitely interesting, relating the older SNP with violent splint groups at a time when Scottish independence was beyond the realm of the possible. I am now looking forward the next instalment, Saints of the Shadow Bible, where Fox and Rebus share the scene….
Archive for Edinburgh
Even though I am beyond schedule at several levels of reality, I took some time off during the X’mas break to read a few of the books from my to-read pile. The first one was The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams. While I read two fantasy series by Williams, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, and Shadowmarch, which major drawback was that they both were unnecessarily long, this short novel is a mix of urban fantasy and of detective story, except that the detective working for Heaven in our current universe and fighting the “Opposition”, i.e. Hell, at every moment. This may sound quite a weird setting, but I nonetheless enjoyed the plot, the characters and the witty dialogues (as in “a man big enough to have his own zip code”). There were some lengthy parts, inevitably, but the whole scheme was addictive enough that I read it within two days. Now, there is a second (and then a third) volume in the series that does not sound up to par, judging from the amazon reviews. But this first volume got a very positive review from Patrick Rothfuss and it can be read on its own.
The second book I read over the vacations in Chamonix is Olen Steinhauer’s An American spy. This is the third instalment in the stories of Milo Weaver, the never-truly-retired Tourist. The volume is more into tying loose ends from previous books than into creating a new compelling story, even though it plays on the disappearance of loved ones and on a maze of double- and triple-agents. The fact that the story is told from many perspectives does not help (it is as if Weaver is now a secondary character) and the conclusion is fairly anticlimactic. A bit of nitpicking: a couple of spies (Tourists) travel to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia on a tourist visa, but there is no such thing as a Saudi tourist visa. Plus, the behaviour of the characters there is incompatible with the strict laws of Saudi Arabia.
A third book completed during those vacations is Gutted, by Tony Black. (I had actually bought this book in Warwick for my son’ British studies project but he did not look further than the backcover.) The book is taking place in Edinburgh, starting on Corstorphine Hill with a dog beating, and continuing in the seediest estates of Edinburgh where dog fights are parts of the shadow economy. The main character of the novel is the anti-hero Gus Drury, who is engaged so thoroughly in self-destruction that he would make John Rebus sound like a teetotaller! Gus is an ex-journalist who lost his job and wife to scoosh, running a pub with the help of two friends. Why he gets involved in an investigation remains unclear to me for the whole book: While Black has been hailed as a beacon for Celtic Noir, and while the style is gritty and enjoyable, I find the plot a wee bit shallow, with an uncomfortable number of coincidences. While finding this book was like discovering a long lost sibling of Rankin’s Rebus, with a pleasurable stroll through Edinburgh (!), I am far from certain I can contemplate reading the whole series…
Lastly, I read (most of) Giant Thief, by David Tallerman. By bits. This may be the least convincing book in the list. The story is one of a thief who finds himself enrolled in an army he has no reason to support and steals an artefact which value he is unaware of when deserting, along with a giant. The pursuit drags on forever. There are many reasons I disliked the book: the plot is shallow, the main character is the ultimate cynic, with not enough depth to build upon. Definitely missing the sparkling charm of the Lies of Locke Lamorra.
“Just another night when he would not quite make it as far as the bedroom.” Standing in another man’s grave
Rebus is back indeed! When my friend Arnaud told me there was a new Rebus, I could not believe it: I thought Rankin had stopped the series with Rebus’ retirement, and one of the best possible endings (Rebus resuscitating his nemesis, Cafferty, and the superb title of Exit Music) to the series. Now, a new novel has appeared, Standing in another man’s grave, signifying Rebus return on the literary scene (and on the Scottish sleuthing scene as well).
“It’s an odd little country, this, isn’t it? I just mean it’s hard to fathom sometimes. I’ve lived here most of my life and I still don’t understand the place.” Standing in another man’s grave
So, a few years after his retirement (and a few years after the ‘last’ novel), Rebus reappears, as a civil assistant to a jeopardised cold case unit in Edinburgh. Unsurprisingly, Rebus cannot stay put and starts participating in a police investigation about the current disappearance of a young girl. With a possible link with earlier disappearances along the A9 road from Perth to Inverness… (A road with a surprising number of Scotch distilleries along the way, but this is a false trail!)
“A nation of 5 million huddled together as if cowed by the elements and the immensity of the landscape surrounding them, clinging to notions of community and shared history.” Standing in another man’s grave
Pretty soon, Rebus takes over the enquiry and without much backup (except from his former colleague Siobhan) figures out most of the clues leading to the thread common to those young girl disappearances. Pushing towards the resolution with means as grey and borderline as usual. Since part of the book is about Rebus trying to reapply for police work thanks to a new law and the Complaints inspector Malcom Fox is trying to prevent this, the next book (as there will be a next book!) may see Rebus in more trouble.
“Rebus began to wonder if he’d ever been further from a pub in his life.” Standing in another man’s grave
This is Rebus’ Rankin back to life and still… I had the definitive impression that Rebus had gotten much older than the few years since his “retirement”. The story starts as if he had lost all contact with former colleagues and only kept in touch with retirees and dead policemen… Even the early dialogues with Siobhan sound contrived. This may actually be intentional. The story itself has nice sides (like the use of Twitter and Facebook by young officers or the elimination of the catalyst case that started the whole story), but the resolution requires too much of a suspension of disbelief. Too many drinks. Too much driving (even though all those names of towns reminded me of places I visited or wanted to visit in Scotland). Nonetheless enjoyable and a page-turner and paving the way to The Saints of the Shadow Bible… With Scottish independence looming in the back!
Got an email with this tantalizing offer of a five year postdoctoral position in mathematics at the University of Edinburgh:
Chancellor's Fellowship (five positions) [tenure-track posts at Lecturer or Reader level] Applications are invited for up to five Chancellor's Fellowship posts in Mathematics. Each Fellowship provides a research-focused reduced-teaching position for up to 5 years, followed immediately by a standard open-ended (ie "tenured") lectureship or readership post. Applicants should have research interests in any area of: Applied and Computational Mathematics Financial Mathematics Mathematical Physics Operational Research Pure Mathematics Statistics One of the positions will be specifically dedicated to algebra (Representation Theory, very broadly conceived). Applicants will have a research record of the highest calibre, exhibiting the potential to become an international leader. We welcome candidates whose interests may also reach out to other disciplines. Appointment will normally be made on the Lecturer scale, £37,382 - £44,607. Dependent on experience, and in exceptional circumstances, appointment may be to Senior Lecturer/Reader level for which the salary scale is £47,314 - £53,233. Interviews will be held during May 2013. Applications containing a detailed CV and an outline of a proposed research programme should be made online