Archive for Ian Rankin

blood hunt [book review]

Posted in Books, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2018 by xi'an

I realised just lately that I had not read the early non-Rebus novels of Ian Rankin (written as Jack Harvey) and thus ordered cheap used copies of three of these, which waited for me on my (new) desk when I returned to Warwick. The first one I tried is Blood Hunt, a 1995 conspiracy novel that is so full of clichés that it feels like several volumes long..! I almost left it in the common room before heading back to Paris! To wit, a second-rate journalist is after a big international chemical corporation that is poisoning the entire planet. As he gets too close to exposing the truth, he is assassinated in the US. Fortunately, his brother is a super-hero, an ex SAS soldier, living on one of the Outer Hebrides in massive isolation and getting a living [while remaining very fit] by training “weekend soldiers”. If this sounds like too much of a coincidence, the story gets downhill from there and the suspension of belief gets so heavy that one could walk on it all the way from Uist to Skye! With the main character achieving on his own more than a dozen Jason Bourne, despite a horde of killers set after him. The only thing of interest in the book is how old it sounds, being set before 1995, with hardly any cell phone available and money running out of call cards. The action taking place in France is rather well documented, including a visit to Orly airport, except for the unfortunate mention that entries are found both left and right on the Périphérique! It is fortunate that Rankin chose to adopt a highly different perspective on a similar character when writing Knots & Crosses and creating Rebus, as I would not have possibly continued reading this type of books! And be waiting for getting my hands on the novel House of Lies, which I saw in the airport when leaving.

the naming of the Dead [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 21, 2018 by xi'an

When leaving for ISBA 2018 in Edinburgh, I picked a Rebus book in my bookshelf,  book that happened to be The Naming of the Dead, which was published in 2006 and takes place in 2005, during the week of the G8 summit in Scotland and of the London Underground bombings. Quite a major week in recent British history! But also for Rebus and his colleague Siobhan Clarke, who investigate a sacrificial murder close, too close, to the location of the G8 meeting and as a result collide with superiors, secret services, protesters, politicians, and executives, including a brush with Bush ending up with his bike accident at Gleneagles, and ending up with both of them suspended from the force. But more than this close connection with true events in and around Edinburgh, the book is a masterpiece, maybe Rankin’s best, because of the depiction of the characters, who have even more depth and dimensions than in the other novels.  And for the analysis of the events of that week. Having been in Edinburgh at the time I started re-reading the book also made the description of the city much more vivid and realistic, as I could locate and sometimes remember some places. (The conclusion of some subplots may be less realistic than I would like them to be, but this is of very minor relevance.)

wet summer reads [book reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2017 by xi'an

“‘Oh ye of little faith.’ Rebus picked up his lamb chop and bit into it.” Ian Rankin, Rather be the Devil

Rebus’ latest case, a stray cat, a tree that should not be there, psychological worries in Uppsala, maths formulas, these are the themes of some of my vacation books. I read more than usual because of the heavy rains we faced in Northern Italy (rather than Scotland!). Ian Rankin’s latest novel Rather be the Devil reunites most of the characters of past novels, from John Rebus to Siobhan Clarke, Malcolm Fox, Big Ger’ Cafferty, and others. The book is just as fun to read as the previous ones (but only if one has read those I presume!), not particularly innovative in its plot, which recalls some earlier ones, and a wee bit disappointing in the way Big Ger’ seems to get the upper hand against Rebus and the (actual) police. Nonetheless pleasant for the characters themselves, including the City of Edinburgh itself!, and the dialogues. Rebus is not dead yet (spoiler?!) so there should be more volumes to come as Rankin does not seem to manage without his trademark detective. (And the above quote comes in connection with the muttonesque puzzle I mention in my post about Skye.)

The second book is a short story by Takashi Hiraide called The Guest Cat (in French, The cat who came from Heaven, both differing from the Japanese Neko ko kyaku) and which reads more like a prose poem than like a novel. It is about a (Japanese) middle-aged childless couple living in a small rented house that is next to a beautiful and decaying Japanese garden. And starting a relation with the neighbours’ beautiful and mysterious cat. Until the cat dies, somewhat inexplicably, and the couple has to go over its sorrow, compounded by the need to leave the special place where they live. This does not sound much of a story but I appreciated the beautiful way it is written (and translated), as well as related to it because of the stray cat that also visits us on a regular basis! (I do not know how well the book has been translated from Japanese into English.)

The third book is called Debout les Morts (translated as The Three Evangelists) and is one of the first detective stories of Fred Vargas, written in 1995. It is funny with well-conceived characters (although they sometimes verge so much on the caricature as to make the novel neo-picaresque) and a fairly original scenario that has a Russian doll or onion structure, involving many (many) layers. I was definitely expecting anything but the shocking ending! The three main characters (hence the English translation title) in the novel are 35-ish jobless historians whose interests range from hunter-gatherers [shouldn’t then he be a pre-historian?!] to the Great [WWI] War, with a medieval expert in the middle. (The author herself is a medieval historian.) As written above, it is excessive in everything, from the characters to the plot, to the number of murders, but or maybe hence it is quite fun to read.

The fourth book is Kjell Eriksson‘s Jorden ma rämna that I would translate from the French version as The earth may well split (as it is not translated in English at this stage), the second volume of the Ann Lindell series, which takes place in Uppsala, and in the nearby Swede countryside. I quite enjoyed this book as the detective part was is almost irrelevant. To the point of having the killer known from the start. As in many Scandinavian noir novels, especially Swedish ones, the social and psychological aspects are predominant, from the multiple events leading a drug addict to commit a series of crimes, to the endless introspection of both the main character and her solitude-seeking boyfriend, from the failures of the social services to deal with the addict to a global yearning for the old and vanished countryside community spirit, to the replacement of genuine workers’ Unions by bureaucratic structures. Not the most comforting read for a dark and stormy night, but definitely a good and well-written book.

And the last book is yet again a Japanese novel by Yôko Ogawa, The Housekeeper and The Professor, which title in French is closer to the Japanese title, The professor’s favourite equation (博士の愛した数式), is about a invalid maths professor who has an 80 minutes memory span, following a car accident. His PhD thesis was about the Artin conjecture. And about his carer (rather than housekeeper) who looks after him and manages to communicate despite the 80 mn barrier. And about the carer’s son who is nicknamed Root for having a head like a square root symbol (!). The book is enjoyable enough to read, with a few basic explanations of number theory, but the whole construct is very contrived as why would the professor manage to solve mathematical puzzles and keep some memory of older baseball games despite the 80mn window. (I also found the naivety of the carer as represented throughout the book a wee bit on the heavy side.)

Not a bad summer for books, in the end!!!

even dogs in the wild

Posted in Books, Mountains, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on August 10, 2016 by xi'an

A new Rankin, a new Rebus! (New as in 2015 since I waited to buy the paperback version.) Sounds like Ian Rankin cannot let his favourite character rest for his retirement and hence set in back into action, along with the new Malcom Fox [working in the Complaints] and most major characters of the Rebus series. Including the unbreakable villain, Big Ger Cafferty. This as classical as you get, borrows from half a dozen former Rebus novels, not to mention this neo-Holmes novel I reviewed a while ago. But it is gritty, deadly efficient and captivating. I read the book within a few days from returning from Warwick.

About the title, this is a song by The Associates that plays a role in the book. I did not this band, but looking for it got me to a clip that used an excerpt from the Night of the Hunter. Fantastic movie, one of my favourites.

Saints of the Shadow Bible [book review]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , on June 14, 2014 by xi'an

The saints of the shadow Bible following me
From bar to bar to eternity’
Jackie Leven

For once, I read my Rankin in Edinburgh, the very place where it takes place! (Somewhere in the book, Rebus acknowledge he never left Scotland. Which does not sound coherent with trips to London in earlier books… Like Tooth and Nails.) It makes the lecture much more complete, as I could picture some of the places and partly follow Rebus whereabouts within the town… The title of the book is taken from a song of Jackie Leven, a reminder that music is always an essential element in Rankin’s book, as Rebus’ tastes seem to mimic Rankin’s (or vice-versa). A definitely great title… And great cover.

Saints of the Shadow (Bible) is as usual always in tune with the current events in Scotland, from the campaigns for and against independence, to the roadwork for the new tram (which opened two days prior to my arrival in the city). Reminding me of Set in Darkness, set around the building of the then new Scottish parliament. This book is a good serving of Rebus, albeit in a sort of schadenfreunde way, as the (DI demoted to DS) Rebus is irresistibly getting close to retirement, cannot fight or drink so much or even impose his views upon his colleagues, even the most inclined towards him… So (spoiler!) the fight between Rebus and Fox, forced to work together, that I was expecting does not really take place. On the opposite, the earlier attempts of Fox to frame Rebus for his “bad-cop” attitude have vanished and (re-spoiler!) Rebus is central to framing some of his earliest colleagues from Summerhall, even though the book maintains the ambiguity for a long while. As often in detective stories, too many coincidences mar the credibility of the story, which is centred around a few characters and with much less of a societal or political framework than in earlier volumes. Maybe the most interesting character in Saints of the Shadow (Bible) is Siobhan Clarke, as she is growing in stature and authority, breaking the close partnership with Rebus while preserving the deep friendship. (As mentioned in the previous review, I do think Rankin should “finish” Rebus’ cycle and move to another theme and style, but, provisional on this, an enjoyable read completing “the” Scottish experience!))

the ice princess [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on May 11, 2014 by xi'an

This week in Warwick, I read The Ice Princess, the first novel of Camilla Lackberg and a book I purchased in Toronto last Fall. I remember seeing the novel fairly frequently in the Paris métro a few years ago and, judging from the banner on top of my edition (“7 million books sold”), it was not only popular in Paris… I actually fail to understand why. Indeed, the plot sounds like a beginner level exercise in a creative writing class, with all possible memes of a detective story appearing together, from suicide, to adultery, to paedophilia, to rich inheritors, to domestic violence, to incompetent bosses, to small town gossip, etc., etc.  The hidden story that is central to explain the murder(s) is just unbelievable, as are some of the related subplots.  And the style is appalling: the two main protagonists are withholding clues and information from the reader, their love affair takes hundred of pages to unravel, the sentences are often unnatural,  or repetitive, some characters are so clichés as to be ultimately unbelievable. Negatives just pile up so high it is laughable. And unbelievable the book got so popular. Or received prizes. Like the 2008 Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for Best International Crime Novel…  (Prize which picked in other times major writers like Patricia Highsmith, Chester Himes, John Dickson Carr, Eric Ambler, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Tony Hillerman, P. D. James, Ian Rankin, and Arnaldur Indriðason.) Anyway, this was a very poor beginning to a highly succesfull series and I am glad I read The Hidden Child before The Ice Princess, as the former had more depth and a much better plot than this first novel.

no Complaints [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , on January 18, 2014 by xi'an

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….