Archive for Ian Rankin

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….

X’mas bookreads

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

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.

standing in another man’s grave

Posted in Books, Mountains, Travel with tags , , , , , , on July 13, 2013 by xi'an

“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!

The complaints

Posted in Books with tags , , , , on January 23, 2011 by xi'an

On the looong flight to Salt Lake City, I started reading this latest novel of Ian Rankin called The Complaints. This was my first Rankin’s novel since the end of the Rebus books I enjoyed very much and I am not disappointed with the result, even though I was expecting a wee more novelty in the setting, the characters and the plot! Indeed, the book is again about police work in Edinburgh, with an individualistic cop facing both suspension and major family troubles, along with an underlying sense of loss of purpose in life and a fight against alcohol… When reading the book, it feels like Rankin first attempted to distance himself from those Rebus characteristics, for instance trying to depict the main character as a team member, but that he eventually fall back on those characteristics as just too convenient to unravel the complicated plot. Continue reading


Posted in Books with tags , , , , , on August 15, 2010 by xi'an

In the plane to Vancouver (flying over Iceland and Greenland), I read Arnaldur Indriðason book called Arctic Chill (Vertraborgin in Icelandic). Indriðason has written several highly popular crime stories (if one judges by the number of prizes his books got) but this was my first book of his’.

I found the style very appealing if rather bleak, maybe reflecting the depressing conditions of the part of the Icelandic society described in Arctic Chill. The main detective Erlendur mixes his police search for the murderer of a young Thai boy with a soul search about his failure to save his brother a long while ago during a snowstorm—the passage about the horse slowly taken by the quicksands made a very strong impression on me—. He also keeps pondering about whether relationships started on deceit can survive for long. As said above, the atmosphere is highly depressing, peopled with single mothers striving to get enough for their family (this was written before the financial crisis!), absent or reluctant fathers, rundown housing, and societal split about immigration. The solution to the murder is quite unexpected and could feel like a cheat, except that it does not! The sheer absurdity of the conditions for this murder, the autistic role played by the parents, all this conveys a strong message about a lack of moral sense at the family as well as at the society level. The reflections about the difficult integration of Asian immigrants into a very small and isolated society made me think of the related Rankin‘s equally impressive Fleshmarket Close, even though Arctic Chill is more intimate and psychological. The title Arctic Chill also translates the constant feeling of cold, wind and terrible weather conveyed by the book. Fighting the cold and the elements seems to be taking a heavy toll on the characters’ resilience… In conclusion, a very good novel going beyond the usual rules of the genre, preferably read on a sunny afternoon (as opposed to a chilly and bleak December evening!)

Exit Music

Posted in Books with tags , , , on December 6, 2008 by xi'an

This is the seventeenth and final novel in the Rebus series. While the plot is not the most endearing of the series (check for instance Fleshmarket Close), it is certainly a fitting ending. As in most of the recent novels, there is a political undercurrent, connecting some cynical Scottish nationalists with Russian seedy entrepreneurs looking for oil deals. There are also the usual threads on Rebus’ musical tastes, on detectives more interested by career than by cases, on Edinburgh and Scotland, as well as the fairly recursive suspension of Rebus in the middle of the book for having overlooked the rules again once too many. Nonetheless, it is mostly about closing the case of Inspector Rebus himself. In a paradoxical twist, he ends up trying to protect his old nemesis Cafferty against a fellow policeman (and even to somehow resurrect him). The pressure to solve the crime that starts the novel by the end of his retirement week is well-set, even if the solution is rather predictable, and the corresponding tension in his ambiguous relation with his partner Siobhan is certainly as enjoyable as ever (and a wee more). It remains to be seen whether or not this is truly the announced retirement of Rebus or if Ian Rankin will keep capitalising on this most Edinburghian of cops: “He could not see himself ever leaving Edinburgh. It was the oxygen in his bloodstream, but still with mysteries to be explored. He’d lived there for as long as he’d been a cop, the two – job and city – becoming intertwined. Each new crime had added to his understanding, without that understanding ever coming near completion. Bloodstained past mingling with bloodstained present; Covenanters and commerce; a city of banking and brothels, virtue and vitriol…