Knots and Crosses
Author: Ian Rankin
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Well how weird is this? For the first time since I started this blog in January, I'm bereft of both galley ebooks and library books! Yep! For the next few volumes I review, I'll be going through books which are wholly-owned subsidiaries of me! Just thought I'd get that off my chest! Not that it was actually on my chest, but you know what I mean. And before we go on I have to note here that after I read this novel, I watched two of the Rebus TV shows and couldn't watch any more. I started on the third and had to ask myself why? Rebus in the TV shows is presented as nothing but an incompetent, cluless, thoughtless drunk, and I couldn't even begin to sustain an interest in a waste of time like that.
I have to award Ian Rankin the MIRAPro (Make Ian Read A Prologue) award for 2013. He bypassed all my defenses and titled the entire first section of the book 'Prologue', even including numbered chapters in it to force me to read it! That's without question the sneakiest assault yet, and since I cannot see anyone beating that approach, and even though it's barely past the half-year mark, he gets the award hands-down. He then adds assault to injury by including an epilogue! He also gets a What? award for this sentence: "...some of them brought in from stations outwith the city"?! p26. I'm sure that makes sense in Scotland. I've just never heard that phraseology before!
This novel is over a quarter of a century old, but something talked me into reading it. I probably would not have had I not been able to purchase it used! Rankin should probably thank the penny-pinching Scot trope in me for buying it. But why look at this novel in particular? Was it because I love Scotland (it was featured powerfully in my novel Saurus), or because I believe I once watched the TV version of this novel - although the memory is vague? It doesn't hurt that I recently got through viewing Prime Suspect an equally venerable TV show set mostly in London, and featuring a feisty and put-upon detective, too. I've even started watching the US version of that show and it's proving quite watchable, too. However my decision to read this novel was arrived at, it was evidently not a completely dumb one, because I was finding it reasonably readable at about one third the way through it.
Seasoned and battered Detective Sergeant John Rebus, on the Edinburgh police force, is put on a child abduction task force only to discover, his first night on the job, that both children have been recovered - but dead. Rebus has, curiously, received the same number of hand-delivered letters, each one showing up at the police station where he works, with his name and nothing else on the envelope, and containing a piece of knotted string and one short sentence: 'there are clues are everywhere'. A third envelope arrives not long afterwards. This has a different message and a different 'toy' enclosed. Yet despite the fact that Rebus gets an envelope for each murder, this guy is so lousy a detective that he never, ever links the two things together, and this costs him in the end.
Rebus isn't exactly adored on the force, so he's given really low-level jobs, such as reading through case files for the assorted known deviants and perverts in the area, and then knocking door-to-door to find out what, if anything, anyone has seen regarding the two abductions/murders. He appears to luck-out personally in the cafeteria one day, when a fellow detective invites him to a party she's throwing, but when he gets there, she's with another guy. He hooks up instead with a detective inspector named Gill Templer. This is later misspelled as 'Temple' in the novel, which goes to show two things: a spell-checker will not completely save your ass, and professional editors are really no better than editing yourself when you get right down to it. Gill is also on the task force, and they end up in bed together. Gill is evidently quite an adventurer in bed, but the relationship really goes nowhere.
Rebus has a bother, Mark, who is a stage hypnotist, and who is also apparently a middle-man in some shady drug dealings, which are weirdly tied to the main case on Rebus's agenda. Rebus has an ex-wife who is dating the son of Rebus's superior at work! So yeah, it couldn't really get any more screwed up than that.
On top of all this, we discover that Rebus is an ex-SAS soldier who has mixed feelings about being in (and then leaving) the military. The way this is written made me suspect that whatever is going on in Edinburgh right then has something, somehow, to do with his military service - and for once, miraculously, I was right, but this revelation only goes to make me feel even more cheated that I didn't get a decent detective story out of this! Most of my suspicions and guesses are completely wrong, so I was a bit surprised by this one being right! This is why I'm not a detective; I do have designs on writing such stories, though!
So, long-story short: I went into this hoping for some cool detective work and I got a police procedural where none of the police work paid off in any way at all. I got no great insights, no deep observations, no cool detecting or problem-solving. I got a lot of nauseating swilling of whisky and smoking of cigarettes, which I felt was unnecessary - and an unnecessary slur on the Scots! So like I said, I feel cheated; however, the story itself wasn't bad in the sense that it was badly written or too stupid to take seriously. So how do I rate a novel like this? I thought about this for a while, and in the end, I decided that I will rate it a low worthy, but qualify that by adding that based on this novel, I doubt I will ever feel a compulsion to read any of the numerous sequels to it!