"Rebus collected unread books. Once upon a time, he had actually read the books that he bought, but these days he seemed to have so little time.
These were the books that lay around his living-room. His books for reading tended to congregate in the bedroom, lying in co-ordinated rows on the floor like patients in a doctor's waiting room. One of these days he would take a holiday, would rent a cottage in the Highlands or on the Fife coast, and would take with him all of these waiting-to-be-read-or-reread books, all of that knowledge that could be his for the breaking open of a cover."
– from Knots and Crosses
Inspector Rebus, I think you and I will "meet" at least 17 more times before all's said and done. Perhaps more, if Rankin decides his last Rebus novel wasn't actually the end. If he didn't kill you off, that is (NO ONE TELL ME!) Something about resurrection from the dead smacks of soap operas. I somehow doubt Rankin's reputation would permit that, unless there's a loophole. Ah, the loophole!
Knots and Crosses has taught my snobbish reading heart a lesson. Namely, there's very good series genre novel writing I've missed because I've been ignoring it. For years I've loved Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine for her mystery/thrillers, but I thought she was the exception to the rule, the more literary writer who happened to choose a niche in genre fiction.
How foolish I was.
My old thinking, if it isn't labeled "literary" it isn't worth reading, has taken a serious beating in the past two days it took to polish off Knots and Crosses. I'm more than willing to say, in front of the entire internet world, "I was wrong." Rankin, créme de la créme of Scottish mystery writers, crafts some wonderful prose. He's also great at character development, especially since his main character Rebus is a BOOK LOVER.
I don't plan to become an exclusive genre series reader, but I know I'll be sticking them between my other books. Rankin has reeled me in like Hemingway and his marlin. Romeo, his Juliet. Sylvester, his Tweety.
Inspector Rebus, as is usual with most lone wolf detective characters, has had a horrifying past that would break most people, one that haunts him. Drinking and womanizing may help dull the pain, but it's never far from the surface. It pops up, unbidden, forcing Rebus to push it back down in order to carry on with his duty.
He's also a man with heart and depth, a complex person difficult to know. A loner, he seeks out companionship mostly for the aforesaid drinking and sex, though having a drink with fellow detectives is a regular habit. And, of course, he's fearless. His past has hardened him, putting him through hell, making him a man scared of nothing. In short, the perfect detective.
Is he a brilliant detective? No, but he's a very good one. He spends a little too much time nursing hangovers on the job, but he's a man who knows procedure inside and out. He also knows Edinburgh (the setting for the series) – all its nooks and crannies where the smarmy underbelly lies. And he can think like a man in desperation.
In short, he's a great series genre detective, and what raises him up a notch or twelve more is Ian Rankin's very good writing. Having a main character who's literary, deep and troubled of course helps. It allows Rankin to give Rebus complex thoughts, to be the sort of character a mystery reader (assumed to be book addicted…) absolutely loves.
And I'm addicted already.
Knots and Crosses is about a serial killer who chooses young girls as his victims. Skin-crawling, but it gives a sense of urgency for the important first novel, the one that needs to catch the reader. Of course Rebus is put on the case, and of course I can't tell much more without spoiling it, save one interesting detail – simultaneous with the crime spree, someone keeps sending Rebus mysterious, seemingly nonsensical notes accompanied first by strings tied in knots, then matchsticks in a cross. What does it mean, and is it related? What is this person trying to tell him?
Ah, you must find out for yourself…
But don't blame me if you find yourself desperate for the next in the series, then the next. And don't say I didn't warn you.