Category Archives: Rankin Ian

The Dark Remains: William McIlvanney & Ian Rankin

Glasgow’s crime world of the 70s has three main crime boss figures: John Rhodes, Cam Colvin and the up-and-coming Matt Mason. When lawyer Bobby Carter, money man for Cam Colvin, is found stabbed to death behind a pub in Rhodes territory, naturally suspicion falls onto Rhodes and his men. Carter was a “career criminal. Or rather, a venally clever lawyer who didn’t so much rub shoulders with criminals as steep in the same polluted bathwater.” Carter’s death could be a message, a signal of war, yet to D.C Jack Laidlaw it’s just too obvious and he suspects that there’s more to the murder. Given the power-grab ramifications of the murder, it’s a sensitive case that must be handled carefully. Laidlaw already has a reputation for ‘rubbing people the wrong way,’ and he isn’t easy to work with. His skill as a detective though is respected and it’s acknowledged that he “seems to have a sixth sense for what’s happening on the streets.”

As Laidlaw investigates, he learns that Carter, with a gorgeous wife Cam Colvin is all-too happy to console, was a womaniser. And one name in the harem sticks out: Jennifer Love, a go-go dancer at Whiskies. The crime world is tightly-knit and it’s hard to penetrate when it comes to solving this murder, but Laidlaw, obsessive when it comes to his cases, keeps digging, and the same names keep floating up.

All cities are riddled with crime. It comes with the territory. Gather enough people together in one place and malignancy is guaranteed to manifest in some form or other. It’s the nature of the beast. In the awareness of the citizens the condition usually lies dormant. The preoccupations of our daily lives obscure any dramatic sense of threat.

The Dark Remains is a prequel to the other Laidlaw books. This was unfinished at the time of author William McIlvanney’s death and the book was subsequently finished by Ian Rankin. The gloomy world of 1972 Glasgow, divided into separate worlds by crime territory, is full of seedy pubs, low-rent hotels, lonely, neglected wives, and violent crims hoping to do their boss a favour before the boss even knows he wants one. Laidlaw is a troubled character who does everything possible to avoid his home life and family responsibilities. But the division of the two worlds, home and crime, are created in such a way that’s it’s understandable (but not forgivable) that Laidlaw finds it uncomfortable to straddle both worlds in one day. Going domestic takes the edge off of Laidlaw’s predatory drive plus it’s much easier to check out of his troubled domestic life, avoid those difficulties, and submerge himself into the dark side of Glasgow. I’m not a huge fan of police procedurals but the case kept my interest here. Laidlaw is a strange one–he likes to cowboy his cases solo, and then he tends to philosophize about human nature. This is tedious to Laidlaw’s workmates, but Laidlaw’s approach, when applied to human nature, works.

Review copy

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Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

“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….

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