Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

"Black and Blue" by Ian Rankin (Orion, 1997)

I've not read him before, but I'm interested in Edinburgh. Here's a sample paragraph - "It was getting light when Rebus finally arrived home. He turned the hi-fi on so that it was just audible, then rinsed a glass in the kitchen and poured an inch of Laphroaig, adding a dribble of water from the tap. Some malts demanded water. He sat down at the kitchen table and looked at the newspapers laid out there, cuttings from the Johnny Bible case, photographs of old Bible John stuff. He'd spent a day in the National Library, fast-tracking the years 1968-70, winding a blur of microfilm through the machine. Stories and leapt out at him. Rosyth was to lose its Royal Navy Commander; plans were announced for a £50 million petrochemical complex at Invergordon, Camelot was showing at the ABC", p.24.

A past serial murderer-rapist case, unsolved for 25 years, involved Bible John. Now another serial murderer-rapist is in action, nicknamed Johnny Bible. Detective Inspector Rebus would like to catch him.

Side-plots are set up. Rebus agrees to act as an alibi for a colleague, Brian Holmes, accused of beating someone up, though he realises, having visited the accuser, that the colleague was probably guilty. Meanwhile he's investigating the murder/suicide of Allan Mitchison, a pretext that takes him to Glasgow and to Aberdeen at a convenient time.

The Spaven case is hinted at early in the book. We're told the details at about p.40 - Spaven had been imprisoned for murder. He claimed until his death (suicide?) that he'd been framed by Rebus's ex-boss, Geddes. Spaven had become a successful autobiographer, and Geddes had taken early retirement. Later in the book Geddes kills himself. The TV and police are re-opening the case and Rebus is being investigated.

So there's more than one case to solve. Bible John is a point-of-view presence early on (p.52). At p.192 we realise who he is, but that doesn't release the tension. He is on the trail of Johnny Bible too. On p.395 Siobhan says "It might sound crazy, but maybe Bible John's out there looking for his offspring" which sounds to me an unlikely hunch, but I was rushed along by the plot and characterisation.

The book has the same type of morally mixed characters as the Sciascia and John le Carré novels I've read. Rebus doesn't know who's on his side, and he bends the rules. Internal politics and turf-wars may explain why he feels he's being framed. At times he empathizes with criminals. He ruffles feathers. He drinks. He wins through in the end.

Eyes are useful to writers, a way to express a character's internal state without flipping into their point-of-view - "Rebus found her eyes, and seen something there. Not just bewilderment or grief./ Something more like fear. And behind it, a degree of calculation" (p.218)

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