Archive for Scottish crime novel

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.)

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!))

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.