"A Good Hanging," (1992) is a collection of twelve taut, tight short stories, in the Detective Chief Inspector John Rebus series, by the outstanding, award-winning, author Ian Rankin, currently the best-selling author of British mysteries in the United Kingdom. It can, like most of his work, be described as a police procedural, within the tartan noir school, and it is set in Edinburgh, more or less Rankin's home town. Mind you, it surely isn't the tourists' Edinburgh, with its tartan tea rooms and cobbled streets: Rankin takes readers to far meaner streets than any tourists will ever see. Within the book's pages we see many of the city's anonymous middle-class neighborhoods, and its slums. We also meet blackmailers, peeping toms, and a satisfying quotient of murderers.
However, the stories, well-done as they are, do rather lack the author's usual vibrant commentary on the city of Edinburgh, and on Scots weather, food preferences, social habits, etc. that I always so much enjoy. But, mind you, the book is still written with power, wit and energy. The stories also lack the emotional heft that would make them memorable. Only "The Dean Curse," about a retired army man, evidently written as a comment upon Dashiell Hammett's The Dain Curse (Crime Masterworks)
; and the title story, about a troupe of green young actors in Edinburgh for its famous annual drama festival, actually get any traction. I must also add that these short stories do not show the playful audacious invention of Irvine Welsh's Reheated Cabbage
. Perhaps Rankin finds the short detective story format somewhat limiting. (By the way, "A Good Hanging," is a quote from the fool Feste, in William Shakespeare's TWELFTH NIGHT: "Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage.") Have I ever commented on Rankin's - and his creation Rebus's--mordant humor?
Well, just what is tartan noir? A bloodthirsty, bloody-minded business, to be sure, more violent than the average British mystery, but, thankfully, leavened a bit with that mordant Scots humor. Written (duh!) by Scots. James Ellroy, American author of LA Confidential
, has dubbed Rankin the progenitor - and king--of tartan noir. Rankin was nominated for an Edgar Award for Black And Blue: An Inspector Rebus Novel 8
, for which he won England's prestigious Gold Dagger Award. He was born in the Kingdom of Fife in 1960, and graduated from the University of Edinburgh. He's been employed as grape-picker, swineherd, taxman, hi-fi journalist, and punk musician. His first Rebus novel Knots And Crosses
was published in 1987. His works are now receiving television treatment. His novels can be enjoyed individually; it's not necessary to go back to "Knots and Crosses" to enjoy them: but I wouldn't start here.