Saints of the Shadow Bible – Ian Rankin

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Saints of the Shadow Bible Ian RankinRebus is back in the police, demoted and a bit angry. While Rebus investigates a car accident, he learns that a case he and his mentors worked thirty years ago is about to be reopened. That investigation is led by none other than Malcolm Fox, and Rebus is caught between his sense of justice and loyalty to the men who helped him start his career in the police.

Standing in Another Man’s Grave was the first time Rebus and Fox, both Rankin creations in their own series, went head to head, but that stand off was just a teaser to the action in Saints of the Shadow Bible. While Rebus ostensibly is working with Malcolm, you as the reader are never sure if his loyalties lie with the truth or with his old comrades. While many Rebus books have let the famous Edinburgh cop toe the line, in Saints of the Shadow Bible, Rebus appears to have let his post-retirement demotion and treatment force him over once and for all. As a long-time reader of Rebus, even I was sitting on the edge of my seat, wondering what decision the veteran cop was going to make.

Rankin is in great shape in his most recent work, and it was great to see the contrast of Fox and Rebus when they were placed side by side.  I felt that Saints of the Shadow Bible was much stronger than Standing in Another Man’s Grave or Exit Music, putting Rebus back into some of his best form in years.  Rankin raises the tension, keeps the reader guessing in the two central mysteries, and showcases the growth of his characters over the years. Now if only Siobhan could be more settled and happy and less like Rebus in her personal life (I would also read a book centered solely on Rebus’s apprentice).

I am more excited to see where Rebus and Fox are heading, and hopefully we’ll get to see more of Fox finding his way in his new reality as well.  Rankin is taking this next year off, so no new books will be hitting our shelves until at least 2015, but I cannot wait for what’s next for Edinburgh’s craziest cops.

Rating: 8/10

Read Saints of the Shadow Bible (Inspector Rebus)


The Blackhouse – Peter May

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The Blackhouse Peter MayEdinburgh-based detective Fin Macleod is reeling from personal tragedy when he is sent back to his childhood hometown of the Isle of Lewis.  There in his quiet town, he must help investigate a murder that is eerily similar to one he was investigating in Edinburgh several months before.  But Macleod has bad memories of his life on Lewis, and as the story moves, we learn just what Macleod was escaping when he left Lewis 18 years before.

The first in the Lewis Man trilogy, I was expecting great things from Peter May’s novel.  Unfortunately, the book only really came together in the last twenty or so pages, leaving me wondering just what he was trying to accomplish through most of the book.  While The Blackhouse looks and sounds like a crime novel, it really is more of a character-driven drama that just happens to center on a detective.  The bits that would fall more into the crime genre were cliché, almost carbon copies of things Ian Rankin and other Scottish crime authors have already done.  Rocked by personal tragedy? Check.  Bad marriage?  Check.  Hometown he wants to forget?  Check.  First novel includes a crime that is personal and vindictive against the detective?  Check.  Sound a bit like Knots and Crosses to you?  Except Fin Macleod is mostly a shallow, one-dimensional character that hardly grabs your attention or your sympathy, until that last portion of the book.

In fact, most of the characters in The Blackhouse felt contrived and as if they were cardboard cut-outs.  The only character with real dimension was the landscape of Lewis.  The long, florid descriptions provided you with a very detailed visual of what the treeless island looks like.  The only issue is that the book is not a travelogue, though so many passages are dedicated to the landscape that you might believe it is meant to be.  I found myself skipping over the landscape portions after the beginning of the book, as it only stalled the momentum of the novel.  While there are some authors who have a talent of making landscape come alive, May was not particularly adept at this task.

Another portion of the book that completely threw me was the narrative style.  While it opens in third-person and follows the present-day Fin on his journey back to his past, there is an inexplicable and unexplained shift into first person describing his childhood memories.  I am sure May was going for something artistic, but it reads more as someone who doesn’t know how to write or construct a novel.  I have never seen a book that presents emotional insight into a character in both third and first person, and it was so jarring that it distracted me for the rest of the novel.  These past insights were never explained – was it meant to be a journal?  Further thoughts from Fin?  It is never explained and never really makes sense.

In all, The Blackhouse had some great character insight that finally paid off in the final pages of the book, but failed to keep you involved until then.  The overall novel read like a first-time author and self-published on Kindle.  Except he’s not and it’s not.  Between the glaring stylistic missteps and the overdone story elements, The Blackhouse was a novel that fell far short of its potential.

Rating: 5/10

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Standing in Another Man’s Grave – Ian Rankin

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Standing in Another Man’s Grave follows Ian Rankin’s now-retired DI Rebus, who has not given up his need to solve cases.  Working as a civilian with other retired cops in the Cold Case Unit, Rebus meets a woman who claims her daughter was the first victim in a string of murders along Scotland’s A9 motorway.  Rebus, ever a man who loves a damsel in distress, decides to look into the case.  In so doing, he begins to uncover some interesting facts about the current disappearance of a young girl.  He throws himself back in with Siobhan Clarke, and worms his way onto the active investigation.  Wary of Rebus’s presence is another Rankin protagonist, Inspector Malcolm Fox of the Complaints.  Fox cannot believe Rebus is a clean cop, and when Rebus thinks about signing on to active duty, Fox thinks it’s his duty to find all the dirt of Rebus and his strange relationship with mobster Big Ger.

When Standing in Another Man’s Grave was announced, I was excited about the prospect of Fox and Rebus going toe to toe.  There are plenty of our favorite authors who have multiple beloved characters, and wouldn’t we all like to watch these characters meet?  By the earlier released log line, I assumed this was a book from Fox, and that Rebus would be a minor figure.  Paint me astonished, because upon reading it the book was much the other way around.  The majority of the narrative follows Rebus on the case, and we only get a small glimpse into what Fox thinks of this rather old-fashioned cop.  And that glimpse is rather scathing.

Rankin explains in the afterword that he had never really been done with Rebus, but the required retirement age in Scotland had painted him into a corner with Rebus’s employment.  Because John Rebus would never become a private detective nor would he be able to find crimes to solve while not on active duty, Rebus was retired.  But then Rankin heard about the Cold Case Unit employing retired cops, and even better, the age restriction being raised.  Suddenly, Rebus could come back and back he came.

I was mostly happy with the return of Rebus.  He got up to his old tricks, but painted against the backdrop of Siobhan’s career choices and Fox’s opinions, it was hard not to feel that Rebus was a bit out of place in modern crime solving.  Which is what I think Rankin wanted to do, but, not giving anything away, the ending really cemented that maybe Rebus has gone too far to prove he is still relevant and can deliver results.  Going forward with any new Rebus, it would be interesting to see if Rankin would tame him a bit, allow him to adjust to the newer way of doing things.  Otherwise, the reality of Rebus staying in the force would seem a bit stretched, and Rankin has been fairly fastidious about being realistic.

As for the meeting of the minds, it was rather intriguing to see Fox set against the backdrop of Rebus.  Having read both The Complaints and The Impossible Dead, Fox is a character I thought I knew quite well.  When things are told from his side of the story, you automatically assume guilt on the part of the cops, and you know why Fox goes after them so hard.  But when Fox comes after Rebus, and you know Rebus is innocent, it puts a whole new spin on the view of a narrator.  After all, from Fox’s perspective, this is a retired cop interested in rejoining the ranks who still works for the police department, has biweekly nights out with former mobster Big Ger Cafferty, and by all accounts, saved Cafferty’s life.  But we know that Rebus hates Cafferty and that his motives are pure, even if his methods aren’t.  Standing in Another Man’s Grave brings these two protagonists against each other and says a lot more about the respective characters when the reader thought they knew enough already.

As a crime novel, I found Rankin’s newest offering to be mostly on par with his previous works.  My only real complaint was the end of the book, and the issue was that Rebus was so strong-handed that I felt it cheapened and lessened the criminal’s confession.  However, having another Rebus and seeing that there is still a lot more to his story makes my day, and I will continue to read any new offerings.  (It gave me chills to see “Rebus is Back” right there on the cover.)

Rating: 7.5/10

Rebus Still in Trouble – Even in Retirement

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It has been about five years since Ian Rankin retired DI John Rebus in Exit Music and seemingly left the troubling detective behind for man-of-the-rules Malcolm Fox.

But Rebus fans’ dreams came true when Rankin announced that Rebus would be making a comeback – with Siobhan Clarke and Fox beside him:

It is twenty-five years since Rebus first appeared in Knots and Crosses, and five years since he retired. In Standing in Another Man’s Grave not only is Rebus as stubborn and anarchic as ever, but he finds himself in trouble with Ian Rankin’s latest creation, Malcolm Fox of Edinburgh’s internal affairs unit. In the meantime his protégée Siobhan has stepped from under his shadow and is forging ahead in her own career.


Talk about a dream mashup of characters.  Rebus the cop who loves to break rules and Fox the one who makes sure cops adhere to them, the combination of the two very different, but very similar, characters should be electrifying.  Of course, the question is – will this be a Rebus novel with Malcolm Fox as the guest star, or the other way around?

Do you have a favorite author you wish would take after Rankin’s lead?  If you’re a Rankin fan, are you excited about Rebus’s return or just wish he would have left the character out of Edinburgh CID?


The Impossible Dead – Ian Rankin

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Impossible DeadIn his second outing, Malcolm Fox has managed to find himself wrapped up in yet another mystery.  While investigating a corrupt cop in Fife, Fox finds himself increasingly interested in a case that dates back 20 years.  Embroiled in the unsolved murder of an ’80s political idealist, Fox gets distracted from his actual case and angers the wrong people.  Concurrently dealing with his sister’s anger and his father’s failing health, Fox must find a way to work within his constraints as a Complaints officer and still satisfy his growing curiosity.

Rankin certainly has a different set of constraints to work in here.  With Rebus, it was almost easy to see why he would go off the rails a bit.  After all, Rebus had a sense of justice and usually came about the crimes in his other CID investigations.  Fox, however, feels a bit too much like a bored man turned detective.  Akin to Victorian mysteries, he simply has too much time on his hands.  In The Complaints, Fox was trying to clear his sister’s name.  But in The Impossible Dead, there is no real tie to the mystery other than satisfying his own curiosity.  Fox does not even appear driven by that justice that drove Rebus to bring down everyone who committed a wrong.  Fox is still a fresh character, and I am sure Rankin will get a better handle on Fox’s motivations within the next couple of novels.

The mystery itself was really interesting and had a lot of pieces that I never would have seen coming.  In these small pieces, Rankin truly is a master.  He is able to carefully weave a story around a central idea, tying everything together in the end, while keeping the killer a complete mystery.  I honestly cannot say that I have solved very many of Rankin’s mysteries before Rebus (or Fox) solved them for me.  That is what I really like about Rankin.  A lot of authors give it away in the beginning or have so few twists and turns that it is a straight path to the killer.  While you may get nigglings that you know who is behind the dead bodies, you are never fully sure until Rankin’s protagonist corners the killer with his theories.  While I do love watching a detective come to their own conclusions, I love it even more if I am kept in the dark and experiencing it along with the detective.

One thing that I particularly love about Rankin is the complexity of his characters, and Fox is no exception.  Rankin manages to weave an interesting mystery around the happenings in a family.  When Fox’s father falls ill and his sister rejects him, you feel sorry that he does not have a stronger relationship with her.  The complicated relationship between siblings (made even more complicated by Jude’s boyfriend’s death in The Complaints) is real and touching.  While they do not make great strides towards a more friendly arrangement, they certainly try their best.  Sure, you don’t go to Rankin expecting a familial drama, but he has continued to do a good job providing one within the confines of crime fiction.  After all, who wants to read about a detective with no depth, no history, and no complications?

Rating: 8/10

The Complaints – Ian Rankin

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The ComplaintsThis was a great choice for audiobook, if only because I was severely missing hearing the Scottish accent on a daily basis.  Peter Forbes narrated, and did a fantastic job of infusing the various characters with different voices and personalities.  I also appreciated that he narrated in an Edinburgh accent (not sure where he’s from exactly, couldn’t figure it out).  While my ear isn’t very well trained, it would feel wrong to have Ian Rankin read by a Glaswegian, whose thicker accents are not heard in Edinburgh.

The Complaints introduces readers to Malcolm Fox, an Inspector in the Complaints department.  For American readers, that would mean Internal Affairs, the cops who investigate other cops.  Malcolm is perfect for the Complaints; he always follows the rules and does not care who he investigates if they are breaking the rules.  The book begins with Malcolm having wrapped an investigation into a corrupt DI named Glen Heaton, and getting an assignment to investigate young DS Jamie Breck.  Just after he begins his investigation, Malcom’s sister’s abusive partner turns up dead, and DS Breck is investigating the murder.  Throw in the apparent suicide of a prominent property developer, and Malcolm is left reeling from everything that seems so connected.

Let’s talk about Malcolm Fox himself.  I really liked him.  He was an interesting departure from the normal Tartan Noir character.  He had his moments, but for the most part was very likable.  He could maintain relationships and got on with others without much problem.  Well, perhaps not with those who were doing wrong, but Malcolm’s easy friendship with Breck was at the core of the conspiracy against both men.  Malcolm holds a good relationship with his father and tries to heal the strained one with his sister (strained mostly because he could not stand to watch her abused by her partner).  While he could sustain a romantic relationship, Malcolm seems well adjusted in many other ways.  This is a severe difference from Rebus, and since Fox looks to be the center of a series, should show Rankin’s diversity as an author.  In fact, I would say that with Malcolm comes a reinvention of crime fiction stereotypes, paving the way for other characters like him.  He worked the entire case with Breck at his side, something most crime fiction detectives would never do.

At the center of The Complaints is the theme of family and what one would do for them.  Malcolm abandons his rules and goes rogue in order to protect his sister.  Even after he’s put on probation, Malcolm continues to go for the answers that would help his sister heal.  Family is mentioned again and again, amongst several other characters.  When most crime fiction novels focus on the loners in the world, this book brought the families to the forefront.  I like the transition.  Of course, some of these families were criminals, but that’s beside the point.

With more experience, you can tell that Rankin has created a stronger start to this series than with Rebus.  I felt that The Complaints was technically better, written with a series in mind, and set up with a stronger character.  I’m not knocking Rebus by any means, but there is no denying that The Complaints was far more sophisticated than Knots and Crosses.

Only downside to an audiobook is that it’s harder to remember all of the tiny details.  Oh darn, I’ll just have to read it again.

Rating: 8.5/10
Audiobook: 9/10

Rebus Series #3 – Tooth and Nail

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Rankin spent two books building a semblance of a pattern, and with Tooth and Nail throws it out a bit.  And yet, this is the book where we really start to see Rebus for what he will become.  Rebus gets a call to go down South, which for a Scot, is not the most pleasant idea.  Wanted in London to help with a serial murderer nicknamed the Wolfman, Rebus is convinced they’ll see him for the sham he is within days.  Except when he arrives in Kings Cross, he hears of the most recent murder and goes straight to the scene of crime.  Working with DI Flight, Rebus becomes invested in the case as if he had been there all along, and some of his ideas lead to major breaks.  While in London, Rebus reconnects with his now 16 year-old daughter (meaning we’re about 4-5 years after Knots and Crosses), his ex-wife, and an attractive psychologist determined to help catch the Wolfman.

There are so many different things to discuss about this book, I’m not quite where to start.  We have again an obsession with Jekyll and Hyde.  This time, the Wolfman embodies Hyde.  Based on the bite marks he leaves on his victims (post-mortem), a dental pathologist creates a possible mold of the Wolfman’s head.  Upon seeing it, DI Flight notes that it looked just as he imagined Hyde.  The face is deformed, because the lower jaw was smaller, more feminine than the upper.  In Knots and Crosses, Rebus sort of imagines himself as Jekyll and Hyde, and the reader is led to see him as Jekyll and Reeve as Hyde – they began the same but became two different men.  With Hide and Seek, the main villain calls himself Hyde, the dual identity claimed and wanted.  And here, in Tooth and Nail, the criminal is given the identity by the police, but also given the Jekyll name because a murderer is not born, but rather prepares himself for the path of death.  One character also notes that the Wolfman likes being the two different people, perhaps reveling in his split personality.  You could say that Rankin has a bit of a predilection for Stevenson’s seminal work.

One thing that I thought was a little different in Rebus’s character was his lack of obsession.  By the end of Hide and Seek, he had seemed to go over the edge, and yet, here he feels a little less so.  Perhaps that is only because he is a new location, and time has reasonably passed since he solved the fight club case.  He does seem to let the case go at times, enjoying a bit of a romance with Lisa Frazer (the aforementioned psychologist), and slightly obsessed with his daughter’s boyfriend.  Actually, for Rebus, he is pretty nonchalant about Wolfman until midway through the book.  Of course, this could be due to his belief that he would be of no help from the beginning.

However, when Rebus does make a few breaks in the case, he begins to go Rogue Rebus.  For those that have read the series, he does this a lot.  This is really the first time that he does things because he believes they’re a better idea, though.  Flight calls Rebus out for a couple of renegade moves, points out that he could work as a team and still get the job done.  While Rebus is embarrassed at this point, I think he also begins to see how his actions are perceived and starts to believe in his own abilities a lot more than in the previous two novels.

I will make one complaint about this book.  The voices were a bit hard to follow.  In Hide and Seek, Rankin switched between Holmes and Rebus (mainly), and the shifts were always easy to follow.  But Tooth and Nail was much less clear-cut.  There were a few times I had to reread to see whose head I was in and from what viewpoint I was examining things.  I honestly prefer only one or two characters to narrate the story, but we jumped from so many different heads it became obnoxious.  I will say that the Wolfman’s head was the best bit – very intriguing to get some view of what made him tick.

For Rebus enthusiasts, we hear of Morris “Big Ger” Cafferty for the first time.  It is mostly a throw-away – Rebus merely has to hightail it to Glasgow to testify against him – but Cafferty becomes a major figure in the Rebus series.  It is very interesting to take note of when and how he is introduced.

There are a lot of great things about Tooth and Nail, but honestly, it is not my favorite Rebus.  Perhaps it is because Rebus is out of the Edinburgh element, or simply because it is only one of the first novels.  Still, it kept me reading late into the night, and I’ve read it before.  Still a great crime fiction read.

Rating: 7.5/10