Archive for Ian Rankin

Laidlaw [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2020 by xi'an

I read William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw [in planes last week] after I saw it recommended as a pre-Rankin novel. Which inspired the whole tartan noir literature. Including Rankin’s books, most obviously. The book is set in 1970’s Glasgow, which sounds rougher and grittier than when I was visiting the West End two decades later. The city is described as dominated by thugs, at least in the popular areas, with ultra-violent men running the criminal world, while still maintaining some Calvinist principles. Especially about the place of women and their abhorrence of homosexuality. Besides the very dark atmosphere of the novel, Laidlaw is one of the least conventional crime novels I have read, with more inner dialogues than conversations (an issue with some Rebus novels!) and a strong dose of metaphysics on the nature of crime and justice, guilt and punishment. The style is also much more elaborated, to the point I often had to re-read sentences (some of which eventually escaped my understanding) and not only for the phonetic rendering of the Glaswegian accents (which is much more readable than Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting). The intellectual detective, Laidlaw, is sometimes drawn in heavy traits (like, why should he keep books by Kierkegaard or Camus and Unamuno in his drawer of his desk), prone to bouts of depression and migraine, and, like Rebus, facing a disintegrating marriage and an addiction to alcohol. Not to mention smoking as most characters are chain-smoking. (This aspect as well as the need to resort to phone booths sets the novel back in time.) His relations with the force are even worse than Rebus’, as his provocations of more traditional colleagues leave him mostly isolated and poorly appreciated by his superiors.

The central character may actually be Glasgow itself, so much do the characters move around it and add permanent descriptions of the feeling of the place(s). Far from pretty, it oozes fear and poverty, desperation and bigotry, but also some form of social link, strongly separated between sexes. The appalling status of women (at least of the women appearing in the novel) is subtly denounced by the novel, even though in an ambiguous way. All in all, an impressive book (and not “just” a crime novel).

in a house of lies [book review]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2019 by xi'an

While I found the latest Rankin’s Rebus novels a wee bit disappointing, this latest installment in the stories of the Edinburghian ex-detective is a true pleasure! Maybe because it takes the pretext of a “cold case” suddenly resurfacing to bring back to life characters met in earlier novels of the series. And the borderline practice of DI Rebus himself. Which should matter less at a stage when Rebus has been retired for 10 years (I could not believe it had been that long!, but I feel like I followed Rebus for most of his carreer…) The plot is quite strong with none of the last minute revelations found in some earlier volumes, with a secondary plot that is much more modern and poignant. I also suspect some of the new characters will reappear in the next books, as well as the consequences of a looming Brexit [pushed by a loony PM] on the Scottish underworld… (No,. I do not mean TorysTories!)

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!!!