Ian Rankin

John Rebus - Detective Inspector, Edinburgh, Scotland, dubbed "Tartan Noir"

"The Naming of the Dead"

(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale AUG 1, 2007)

Siobhan shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe later, eh?”
Her father put a finger to his lips.  “They’re starting,” he whispered.
“Starting what?” Siobhan asked.
“The naming of the dead…”
And so they were: reading out the names of a thousand victims of the warfare in Iraq, people from all sides of the conflict.  A thousand names, the speakers taking it in turn, their audience silent.  Even the young woman stopped dancing….

Because this is what she did, her whole working life.  She named the dead.  She recorded their last details, and tried to find out who they’d been, why they’d died.  She gave a voice to the forgotten and the missing.  A world filled with victims, waiting for her and other detectives like her.  Detectives like Rebus, too, who gnawed away at every case, or let it gnaw at them.  Never letting go, because that would have been the final insult to those names.

The Naming of the Dead by Ian Rankin

The Naming of the Dead is Ian Rankin’s 16th novel featuring Scottish Detective Inspector John Rebus.  This book, told primarily in the third person perspective of Rebus and the younger Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke, takes place during the G8 conference held in Scotland in July 2005. John and Siobhan work together and separately to solve crimes related to and occurring prior to the conference.  Getting in the way of these investigations are the crowds of attendees, protestors and spectators and the competing concerns of their superiors.  This book is an extremely well written with great characters and several twists to keep the book interesting all the way through.

The novel begins with John having to deal with (by trying to ignore) the recent passing of his younger brother Michael who has died of a stroke at the age of 54. Siobhan leaves a message for Rebus while he is still at his brother’s funeral.  John is more than willing to be distracted from his thoughts and the people at the funeral and quickly leaves after returning the call.  Siobhan found a scrap of clothing related to Cyril Colliar, a former sex offender that also worked for gangster Morris Gerald “Big Ger” Cafferty.  As Siobhan and John work the case, even with the help of Cafferty, they find evidence that similar murders had occurred to other sex offenders.  They also find that all of them are listed on a sex offender website set up by a mother of one of the victims still emotionally harmed by the rape by one of the offenders.

In addition to the craziness around the protests and meetings associated with the G8 conference, Siobhan spends time with her activist parents who came to the area to camp and be one of the protestors.  While in attendance at one of the protests, Siobhan’s mother Eve Clarke is struck on the head, presumably by an overzealous policeman. The injury is bad enough to land Eve in the hospital. Siobhan becomes distracted from her main case trying to find information and photographs that would help determine who injured her mother.

Rebus also follows the possible, accidental death or even murder of Member of Parliament (MP) Ben Webster during an important meeting related to the G8 conference.   Rebus gets some resistance from David Steelforth, the Specialist Operations (SO12) leader from London who is overseeing the security of the G8 conference.  Steelforth gets Rebus’ and Clarke’s new boss, James Corbyn, to tell them to stop working on their cases and focus on the G8 conference until after it is over.  This does not sit well with either of them and they eventually become suspended.  Of course, this doesn’t stop Rebus and Clarke as they work together, and with the help of others, to find the killers.

Although I’m a big fan of well written police procedurals (e.g., Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct and Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books), I’ve never read anything by Ian Rankin before.  I had heard some good things about this series but the length of the more recent books (well over 400 pages) along with the Scottish setting concerned me enough to never get around to reading any until now.  This book and presumably the series offer much to a reader that likes good police procedurals with strong and realistic characters.  Certainly John Rebus reminds me a lot of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch – an aging near-retirement police detective usually involved in homicides and someone who has some difficulty following orders from superiors.  They both also find usefulness in working with the local press.  (Rankin’s first Rebus book, Knots and Crosses was published in 1987, five years before Connelly’s first Bosch book, The Black Echo.)

Since the setting is in Scotland and not in the United States, the U.S. reader does need to learn a little bit more about the geography and police and political structure to understand some of the references in the book.  For example, John Rebus is a Detective Inspector (DI for short), a higher level than DS (Detective Sergeant) Siobhan Clarke.  They both work for CID, Lothian and Borders police.  The CID is for Criminal Investigation Department and the Lothian and Borders is a region of southeast Scotland that includes the City of Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland (since 1437!) and second largest city with a population of over 400,000. (Wikipedia.org is a very helpful resource for this information as well as about Ian Rankin and this series.)

Also, in reading some other reviews for this book, clearly I missed much of the subtleties of the back story (which was much of the main story in this book) from not being familiar with the history of the two main characters, John Rebus and Siobhan Clarke.  I certainly could not understand the significance of the death of John’s brother in the beginning of the book or fully understand some of interactions between John and Siobhan. I also did not fully value (but could appreciate) some of the past interactions of Rebus and gangster “Big Ger” Cafferty. Nonetheless, the book has much to offer and although I’m not necessarily recommending that someone interested in this series start with this book, it still stands up well as a standalone if you are just interested in reading the most current Rankin book.  Certainly for me, I enjoyed the book enough to pick up a copy of Knots and Crosses.  I suspect I’ll be quickly picking up the remaining 14 other books in the series.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 33 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Naming of the Dead at author's website

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"Fleshmarket Alley"

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie JUN 12, 2005)

"We spend most of our time chasing something called 'the underworld,' but it's the overworld we should really be keeping an eye on."

Fleshmarket Alley by Ian Rankin

Ian Rankin's John Rebus series is probably one of the longest running and most successful in contemporary crime fiction. I am embarrassed to admit, as an avid reader and mystery lover, that I just made the acquaintance of this fine detective, and connoisseur of most Edinburgh and Glasgow pubs, in his sixteenth and latest book, Fleshmarket Alley. I find that, apart from books 1 and 2, this is a perfect place to get to know the curmudgeonly crime solver. Just as Rebus is a new character to me, he is new to his latest work situation. So, in a sense, we begin a fresh venture together.

"I'm not supposed to be here," Detective Inspector John Rebus said. Not that anyone was listening." As the novel begins, our hero is grumbling about the reorganization that has recently been implemented at the police station where he has spent the last eight years. St. Leonard's is closed, and he and his unfortunate colleagues have been assigned to other stations, whether they require additional staff, or not. Not to say the DI has been surplussed, but, in fact, he has been surplussed. I don't think anyone who has worked with Rebus would ever call him superfluous - certainly not his avid fans - but we all understand the inevitability of corporate downsizing, whether we agree with it or not. Thus, this often irate, but consummate professional, does not even have a CID office. He has been relocated to Gayfield Square, just off Leith Walk, a fairly upscale neighborhood, near Edinburgh's New Town. This area is just three miles from Knoxville, but traveling that brief distance is like visiting a foreign country, one with an extremely low tourism rate.

Knoxville is a low-scale public housing project, built in the 1960s, where the large majority of residents are immigrants from developing countries. It has long been a target for racists, who want "Britain to remain British," meaning for white Anglo-Saxon Protestants only. The buildings are covered in graffiti warning the "Pakis" to "Get Out." Knoxville will play a significant role in this novel. It is here that a male corpse is discovered with multiple stab wounds, including one to the throat. There is nothing on the body to identify it. This vicious murder will cause John Rebus to visit places he's never been before, (and he's been around), and to form some astonishing alliances, at least unusual for him. Somewhat of a reactionary, he finds himself oddly drawn to a political activist and artist. Although the two are polar opposites, he is fascinated by the woman, and the ideals she represents - interested enough to reexamine some of his own long-held prejudices.

While Rebus covers the Knoxville situation, his longtime "pal" and coworker Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke, also a new resident at Gayfield Square, receives a visit from a couple she worked with on a prior case. The Jardines' eldest daughter had committed suicide three years before. She had been raped, and although the perpetrator had been caught, tried and convicted, the young girl had not been able to deal with the trauma. Now, the family's second daughter has gone missing. They plead with DS Clark to help them, even though they live outside her present jurisdiction. Then another murder victim turns up, this one connected to the missing girl and her family.

That same day, the skeleton of a female, and another of an infant, are discovered buried beneath the concrete in a newly renovated bar in Fleshmarket Alley. As diverse as these cases appear, they are all, ultimately, connected.

Mr. Rankin is a master at creating and developing his narrative and characters. Apart from his usual suspects, I was drawn to, for better or worse: Mohammad Dirwan, "Mo" to his friends, a Glasgow solicitor who works with refugees; Caro Quinn an activist and artist Rebus meets outside Whitmire, a deportation complex; Dr. Alexis Cater, son of a famous USA movie star who is very knowledgeable about the skeletons, and is more than willing to pass the information along to DS Clark, in exchange for a date; Morris Gerald Cafferty, "Big Ger," a supposedly retired gangster, who has the lowdown on almost everyone, and a magnificent hot tub to boot; and dancer Kawame Mana, or "Kate," as she calls herself, a student from Senegal who works part-time in a sleazy club.

Fleshmarket Alley contains additional and complex subplots, apart from the ones I mention above. More importantly, for me, Mr. Rankin takes on the social issues of smuggling illegal immigrants for profit, slave labor, terrorism, and corporate run, prison-like refugee detention houses. Along with the extremely well written police procedural, it is the examination of these controversial political and social issues that make this novel so special and unique.

I highly recommend this latest offering from Ian Rankin, and enthusiastically plan to read some of his earlier John Rebus books.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 34 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Fleshmarket Alley at author's website

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"Resurrection Men"

(Reviewed by Bill Robinson FEB 02, 2003)

Resurrection Men by Ian Rankin

Scotsman Ian Rankin is the top best-selling mystery writer in the United Kingdom. Sales of his books alone account for 10% of the entire British crime market. All this is for a reason, aptly demonstrated by Rankin's latest outing, Resurrection Men.

This book is number thirteen in the Detective Inspector Rebus series. It takes as its lead character the hard drinking, rough-around-the-edges Edinburgh policeman John Rebus. Rebus' modus operandi is doing things on his own and his own way, and, needless to say, he is proud of it. He is well known for his insubordination.

In fact, as the book begins, Rebus has been suspended as punishment for throwing a full mug of tea at his commanding officer, Chief Super Templer. He is being shipped off to the Police College. The hope is that as a result of intensive "retraining," he will regain a greater respect for teamwork, discipline, and authority.

The book takes its title from the fact that a century ago Resurrection Men of Edinburgh were grave robbers, supplying dead bodies to medical schools. In this case, the name is given to a group of men who have been sentenced to time at the Scottish Police School for bad behavior. They need to "rise again" in terms of how they are viewed by their superiors.

Back in Edinburgh, Rankin has us follow a protégé of Rebus, Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke, as she investigates the death of an Edinburgh art dealer. He was murdered mysteriously with a hard rock to the head. At the Police College, Rebus and his teammates are assigned to reinvestigate the six-year-old unsolved murder of an Edinburgh lowlife. At first, the two cases seem to have little in common, but as the investigations deepen, it appears that they are linked in some critical way.

The "resurrection men" split up into small teams to revisit long-buried clues and details. All the while, Rebus is afraid they will uncover potentially damaging facts that might reflect negatively on him. It turns out he was involved in the old case. We also find that he has been sent to the Police College for a reason other than tea throwing. He is doing some solo inside snooping, his targets being several of his classmates.

Clarke, as she runs her simultaneous investigation, shows herself as a sharp, cynical, and very good police person. She seems set to fall in the footsteps of the soon-to-retire Rebus. By the next book or the following, Clark probably will replace Rebus as the title character of the series. And, she should easily fill the role. Rebus has trained her well. That Clarke and others in the book are drawn in significant depth is important, because the characters are what keep the pages turning.

When Rebus and Clarke together go after "Big Ger" Cafferty, a notorious gangster who controls the Edinburgh criminal underground, it becomes obvious why Rebus is good at his job. For him, good and evil are blurred. Not that he can't spot the bad guys. His eye is unfailing. But he knows them and can work with them because of the "ignore the rules," anti-authoritarian person that he is himself.

The going gets tough at several points; once even, Rebus finds his life in serious peril. But much of the book is spent talking, grousing, and drinking. Alcohol, and plenty of it, is the fuel of choice for almost all the senior police officers. Fill-ups can come morning, noon, not just night. Rebus is also a rock 'n roll aficionado, a wonder to find an REM fan in a Scottish detective near retirement age. But it's these kinds of surprises that give the characters depth.

And, to make things interesting, everyone keeps in touch constantly via cell phone. So, even at the Police Academy, Rebus can maintain close contact with Clark. He can follow the current murder investigation, as he proceeds with his own six-year-old case, all the time keeping a sharp eye on fellow police officers who may be a bit less honest than they look.

If the Rebus series is winding down, this is certainly not a cause to celebrate. However, the good news is that you can't go wrong with Resurrection Men. Hopefully, the series with its multifaceted characters and dense narratives is good for at least one or two additional books prior to retirement of the boozing Scottish detective.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 34 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Resurrection Men at MostlyFiction.com

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Inspector Rebus Mysteries:

  1. Knots and Crosses (1987)
  2. Hide and Seek (1991)
  3. Wolfman (1992) (published as Tooth and Nail in US)
  4. A Good Hanging (1992)
  5. Strip Jack (1992)
  6. The Black Book (1993)
  7. Mortal Causes (1994)
  8. Let It Bleed (1996)
  9. Black and Blue (1997)
  10. The Hanging Garden (1998)
  11. Dead Souls (1999)
  12. Set in Darkness (2000)
  13. The Falls (2001)
  14. Resurrection Men (2002, February 2003 in US)
  15. A Question of Blood (February 2004)
  16. Fleshmarket Alley (February 2005)
  17. The Naming of the Dead (April 2007)
  18. Exit Music (September 2008)

Short Story Collections:

  • A Good Hanging and Other Stories (1992) (Inspector Rebus stories )
  • Hebert In Motion and other stories (1997)
  • Death is not the End : a novella (Inspector Rebus) (1998)
  • Rebus: The Early Years (1999)
  • Rebus: The St. Leonard's Years (2001)
  • Beggars Banquet: Stories (2002) (21 stories, 7 include Inspector Rebus)

Other Novels:

Originally written as Jack Harvey:

  • Witch Hunt (1993) *
  • Bleeding Hearts (1994) *
  • Blood Hunt (1995) *

*All three thrillers are published in The Jack Harvey Novels (2000)


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Book Marks:


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About the Author:

Ian RankinIan Rankin  was born in 1960 in the Scottish village of Cardenden and was educated locally. While young, he dabbled in creating comic books and then writing music lyrics and by the time he went onto Edinburgh University, his poetry had already won several prizes. While at university, Ian turned from poetry to the short story and again won several literary prizes. One of the short stories until it become a novel. In fact, when he should have been studying towards a PhD in English Literature he was writing his first three novels, the last of these became his first Inspector Rebus novel.

Ian married Miranda Harvey in 1986 and moved to London where he worked in journalism, rising from Editorial Assistant at montly magazine call "Hi-Fi Review" to editor. He continued writing novels during this time experimenting with various genre.

In 1988 Ian was elected a Hawthornden Fellow, and is also winner of the 1991-92 Chandler-Fulbright Award, one of the world's most prestigious detective fiction prizes (funded by the estate of Raymond Chandler).

Ian now divides his time between Edinburgh, London and France, with his wife and two sons.

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