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As is so often the case in a first novel, this initial Detective Sergeant John Rebus mystery is a bit too chock-full for its own good. But you can't blame an author who may not know if they'll ever get anther shot at readers for including every theme, scene, and character they've ever wanted to write about in the one book they know is going to be published. And, especially when an author settles into such a good groove in subsequent efforts, as Ian Rankin unquestionably has, we ought to cut them some slack on their earliest forays.

Here we meet Rebus just as he teeters on the edge of a nervous breakdown, plagued by inchoate memories and fears of his time in the SAS and the brutal methods they used to break him and a friend in an interrogation-resistance experiment gone badly wrong. He's drinking too much, his wife has given him the boot and kept their daughter, and being a wise-acre and engaging in an act of violence with a suspect have left him persona non grata on the police force. He's groping for a relationship with his brother, who followed in their magician father's footsteps and has done surprisingly well financially, and with God, who he believes in but can't determine what form that faith should take, especially since he identifies most with Job. In the midst of all this he gets assigned to the case of the Edinburgh Strangler, who's murdering young girls and sending Rebus taunting notes along with bits of knotted string and matchstick crosses. But things get downright "incestuous," as one character even notes, when it turns out that his supervisor's son is his ex-wife's new lover and the Strangler takes Rebus's daughter. That's some knotting that's just too tight and I haven't even revealed the whole ball of string.

Still, the story cranks along at breakneck pace; Rebus is an alternately sardonic and soulful guide through the mystery; and Mr. Rankin doesn't talk so much about Rebus's backstory in future books, so it's important to get your grounding here. It's a good intro but the best comes later in the series.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

Ian Rankin (4 books reviewed)
Ian Rankin Links:

    -Ian Rankin Web Site (Minotaur Books)
    -PROFILE: Sympathy for the devil: Please allow us to introduce Ian Rankin, a man of wealth and taste. HeÕs been around for years writing about Inspector Rebus, but now the series is coming to an end, and BritainÕs most successful crime novelist must decide what to do next. A good time, then, for Peter Ross to take a magnifying glass to the fascinating life and career of a very Scottish literary star (Peter Ross, 02 May 2004, Sunday Herald)
    -ESSAY: Soft-boiled: Detectives aren't what they used to be (Stephen Budiansky, The Atlantic)
-INTERVIEW: Author Ian Rankin: ‘My first books were comic annuals, the likes of The Victor and Hotspur’ (Independent ie, October 09 2022)
    -INTERVIEW :  with Ian Rankin  (Book Browse)
    -INTERVIEW: Ian Rankin Exile on Princes Street:  Inspector Rebus & I (Tangled Web)
    -INTERVIEW: Ian Rankin  Starless & Bible Black:   The Serial Killer Who Refuses to Die
    -The BookEnds Interview: IAN RANKIN
    -Ian Rankin (reviews, etc. from Twisted Web)
    -REVIEW: of Black and Blue (Crime Reviews, Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Dead Souls (BookBrowser)
    -REVIEW: of Dead Souls Ghost Writing  Gary Marshall detects brilliance in Ian Rankin's Dead Souls (Spike)
     -REVIEW: of Let it Bleed  (BookBrowser)
    -REVIEW: of SET IN DARKNESS By Ian Rankin (Marcel Berlins, London Sunday Times)
    -REVIEW : of The Falls by Ian Rankin (Jane Jakeman, Independent uk)

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