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Let it Bleed ()

This past Summer, the folks at the BBC World Book Club wrote and asked if there was a question we'd be interested in putting to Ian Rankin, when they did his book Black and Blue. I'm a big fan of the series, though haven't read all the books, so seized the opportunity to ask: From an American perspective, Scotland seems to be a society in rather precipitous moral, economic and social decline. Meanwhile, Detective John Rebus seems to be kind of the last Calvinist standing, fighting against this rot. is that the effect Mr. Rankin is shooting for with the character?" Well, they asked to tidy it up a bit, since a world audience might not get the reference to Calvinism, but the gist remained and while he didn't dismiss it out of hand, Mr. Rankin did avoid the idea that Rebus can be seen in such stark terms. Since then I've been going back and reading the books I'd missed along the way and, for my money, he gives a more honest answer in the pages of Let It Bleed.

The mystery here surrounds a trio of suicides. Most of the police force would as soon let them drop, but Rebus gets the bit between his teeth and, as is his wont, won't let go. As he starts to uncover secrets that local politicians and businessmen would rather keep buried his superiors make him take some unscheduled time off, but that hardly slows him down. Besides the political and peer pressure his investigation is complicated by both the involvement of his daughter, who's working with a prisoner right group, and by the fact that the corruption he's exposing has had the benefit and holds out the prospect of bringing jobs to the depressed local economy. His tenacity in the face of all this leaves those around him trying to figure out what drives him. As a former girlfriend opines:
"You see, Sammy, your father is the Old Testament type, retribution rather than rehabilitation. [...]

And he's the classic Calvinist too. [...] Let the punishment fit the crime, and then some."
Meanwhile, after fending off more pressure from above, his boss chides:
"I think you know damned well that these obsessions of yours end up damaging everyone around you, friend, foe, and bystanders alike. [...] But it doesn't bother you, does it? [...] As long as your own personal morality is satisfied, that's all that counts. Sod everyone else, isn't that right?"

"It feels that way sometimes, sir," Rebus said quietly.

"Well, maybe you should consider that morality of yours, because it's no code I'd want to live with."
That's the Rebus series in a nutshell: No one else, seemingly in all of Scotland, wants to live by Calvinist/Old Testament morality any more, but it's the only way he knows how to live. Later on, one of the targets of his investigation asks: "What are you, some Old Testament prophet? Who gives you the right to hold the scales?" Now the irony of Rebus's character is that he's quite a mess in many ways: drinks too much, smokes too much, has left a trail of broken relationships behind him, cuts corners and skirts the law himself, and isn't above accepting a meal or a drink on the cuff. But, of course, it is Mr. Rankin and we, the readers, who give Rebus the right to hold the scales, because we're willing to accept that he's as decent a man as any in such a cesspool of a society. Whatever Rebus's flaws, he stands in stark contrast to the many around him who would turn a blind eye to crime rather than rock the boat. "[T]hat was typically Edinburgh. People would rather not know, even if there was nothing there--they didn't want to be told that their body (or their country) was rotten with cancer, but nor did they want to be told that it wasn't." It's an entire society where folks have become like the onlookers when Kitty Genovese was attacked. Except, that is, for Detective John Rebus, Scotland's last Calvinist.


Grade: (A+)


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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