“There’s more happening in Edinburgh than anyone knows.”
I don’t know about everyone one else out there, but sometimes I need a complete change of pace in my reading. In 2009, after watching a few films based on Ian Rankin’s series detective Rebus, I finally got around to one of Rankin’s books. I picked up Exit Music–just in time to read about the end of this fictional detective’s career. Exit Music begins with Rebus looking at the 10-day countdown till retirement and then along comes a nasty crime to solve. I enjoyed Exit Music, but at the same time I felt a bit cheated. It was as though I’d just met someone and thought: this is an interesting fellow only to watch him keel over, emigrate or simply disappear. At this point I regretted not trying Rankin a bit earlier.
So this led me to a battered old paperback copy of Knots and Crosses–the first novel in the Rebus series. These first series novels tend to be a bit weaker as they exist in part to provide the foundation for the main character. After the first novel in the series, we readers are supposed to be interested enough to keep on buying and reading the subsequent novels. I suppose as series novels continue they become, in a way, a familiar safe bet for the avid fan. We are already acquainted with the main character (in this case, Rebus), we already know the author’s style and often the setting is the same. It’s probably a bit like going to the same place on holiday every year or ordering the same thing from the restaurant menu.
In Knots and Crosses, Detective Sergeant Rebus isn’t exactly at the beginning of his career. He works in Edinburgh, he’s divorced and has one child. His flat is messy and smelly. His private life is practically non-existent and is composed of occasional drunken one night stands, only blearily remembered the next day. His father has been dead for five years, and Rebus’s relationship with his brother, magician Michael isn’t exactly what you’d call close. When the story begins, it’s just becoming evident that there’s a serial killer on the loose in Edinburgh. Rebus is put to work on the case, alienating his superiors while attempting to build a relationship with an attractive co-worker.
The novel is at its strongest in its depiction of Rebus. He’s firmly established as an interesting, although unappealing character–from his half-hearted attempt to limit his cigarette smoking to the way he cheats and lies to himself about it. Rebus is coming apart at the seams: his mental stability, his personal life, his professional life. The man’s a walking disaster and this is only the first book.
The plot, however, was a bit of a stretch for me. Obviously I can’t say a great deal about the plot without giving away too much of the mystery. After all, there may be another human being on the planet who hasn’t read this novel yet but who still intends to. For me, the plot was a little too fantastic–a little too Professor Moriarty for my tastes. On top of that, the crime finale was a little too Hollywood Hype for my tastes.
Will I try another one? Yes. I am interested in how Rebus–a man who’s already completely burned out–manages to pull his career out of a nosedive and hold it together long enough to survive until retirement….