Tag: Ian Rankin

#amreading #mystery: The Falls by Ian Rankin

After having read the first in the Inspector John Rebus series by Ian Rankin, Knots and Crosses (previous review),  let’s compare it to the twelfth in the series, The Falls.

 

The Falls* by Ian Rankin

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Art history student Philippa “Flip” Balfour goes missing and her rich parents immediately pull strings to make the case a priority. When the new Chief Super Gill Templer assigns Detective Inspector John Rebus the task of checking out a doll found in a casket, he’s pretty sure it isn’t important to the case. Or is it?

What is similar between the two books:

Ian Rankin knows how to write a perfect first line. The first line of Knots and Crosses was eerie:

The girl screamed once, only the once.

For The Falls, it is intriguing:

‘You think I killed her, don’t you?’

As to be expected, both novels are set in Edinburgh, Scotland and the surrounding countryside. Also, both novels give a detailed picture of the inner workings of Scottish police departments.

Once again John Rebus is only one cog in a much larger investigative machine. Once again others, particularly his female colleagues, point him in the right direction or dig up pertinent clues.

Another similarity between the two novels is that there are puzzles to figure out, which makes sense because the main character’s last name “Rebus” is a type of word puzzle. In Knots and Crosses the names of the previous victims is a puzzle/clue. In The Falls, the puzzles — part of a role-playing game — are a central thread of the story. Regardless of his last name, in both novels it isn’t Rebus who works out most of the puzzles, but other characters.

What is different about the two books:

An obvious difference between the two books is the length. Knot and Crosses is a respectable 256 pages.  At 399 pages, The Falls is significantly longer.  Much of the difference in length is due a substantially more complex plot (details would be spoilers).

Some of the differences may be due to the fact that the two books were by different publishers. In Knots and Crosses, there are double quotation marks around the dialogue. In The Falls, the dialogue is set off by single quotations marks. Single quotation marks are more common in British novels.

Another difference is the theme of promotion and retirement within the police department. When Chief Super Farmer retires, John Rebus visits him. He notices how tidy Farmer’s house is and realizing he might be at loose ends, asks Farmer to help out with small pieces of the investigation. An older Rebus looks ahead and is a bit frightened about what his own retirement might look like, whereas in the first book he looked back on what had happened when he was young.

Discussion

Keeping a mystery series moving ahead is no small achievement. Ian Rankin does a wonderful job creating compelling, complex characters and a multi-layered plot. As Rankin and his characters mature, we can only imagine what lies ahead.

#amreading Mystery: Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

With an opportunity to meet some great mystery authors coming up in September, I’ve been doing some background reading. Up today is Knots and Crosses: An Inspector Rebus Novel (Amazon affiliate link) by Ian Rankin.

There may be a few minor spoilers.

 

This is the first Inspector John Rebus mystery novel, originally published in 1987.

Summary:  A serial killer is strangling young girls in Edinburgh, Scotland. As one of the detectives assigned to the case, John Rebus is battling his own demons, which include debilitating flashbacks and mysterious anonymous notes. Can he figure out how all the puzzle pieces fit together in time?

Mystery Novel Dissection:

The novel starts out with an excellent hook, from the first line:

The girl screamed once, only the once.

That certainly sets the tone and grabs the reader’s attention.

From there, Rankin introduces the characters, starting with Detective John Rebus, the main character. Rebus was in the army, and trained with the Special Air Service (SAS) before becoming a police officer. He also suffers from flashbacks to memories that he has repressed, in many ways making him like Detective Rob Ryan in In The Woods (previous review). In fact, I did wonder if Tana French was influenced by Rankin’s writing.

John’s younger brother Michael is a hypnotist who uses his talents for entertainment purposes. At first it looks like Michael is a side character, but later we learn he is a form of Chekhov’s gun. His ability to hypnotize others helps solve the crime.

Jack Morton is another detective and John’s friend. In one of those funny things that happen when writing, Jack Morton on page 37:

…was thirty-five, six years younger than Rebus.

On page 38,

Morton had been a policeman for two decades…

Doing the math, Jack Morton had become a police officer at a very young 15 years old! Oops… Perhaps “nearly” two decades?

Rather than portrayed as a superhero who does it all, John Rebus gets a lot of help from others along the way, including from a female public information officer (love interest)  who figures out the significance of the anonymous notes. In fact, the help from other people goes a little too far at times, making Rebus seem the passive recipient of information rather than an active investigator. It does make him seem believable and human, though.

In the end, author Rankin makes good use of the “ticking clock” to build suspense towards the climax. Will Rebus be able to find the killer in time, before he kills again as he has promised?

Discussion

For what I’ve read Ian Rankin was 25 years old when he wrote  Knots and Crosses, so he did a magnificent job creating the older, grizzled character in John Rebus. It is a riveting mystery that is well-paced, with a nicely-detailed setting and believable plot. Rankin doesn’t provide a lot of red herrings or overt clues, but it builds logically to a suspenseful climax. I can’t wait to read more of the twenty-some novels featuring Inspector John Rebus.

The next mystery novel in the series is Hide and Seek: An Inspector Rebus Novel by Ian Rankin.

 

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