on 5 December 2003
Ian Rankin's faultless record in the crime fiction genre once again cannot be questioned after reading this book. The well-loved protagonist of DI Rebus once again makes the reader long for his alignment with the values that 'society' holds, if only for a true recognition of his character. However an admiration for DI Rebus cannot be quenched - a thirst for answers, disregard for bureaucracy and an understanding of the criminal mind. Edinburgh is yet again treated not just as a beautiful city with a 'nice' tourist scene, but as a dark place, somewhat pretentious, with underlying sadness. It exhibits the nature of crime and humanity, the urges and desires, the pitfalls and the despair that is human life. The Rebus novel are not novels that you pick up, read and put back on your bookshelf. When you read these Ian Rankin novels you are involved. These are not just formulaic novels with a plot which gets resolved by the quirky detective. These are touched by a reality which is sometimes shocking but always necessary. It would be an injustice not to read this novel or any other Rebus novel.
Rankin's latest begins straight off, plumping us right in the middle of the plot, and has a pace that continues in that vein, right until the shocking end. It starts with Rebus, in hospital, hands burned and bandaged following a severe scalding from hot bathwater. Or so he says. He is about to be called into a case that will question his notions of his family, his past, his future, and his present. There has been a horrific shooting incident at a private school just north of Edinburgh. Three people are dead, one injured. After his rampage, the killer - who was, like Rebus, ex-army - turned the gun on himself. As everyone puts it, "there's no mystery, except the why".
Given his army background, Rebus is asked to advise, on the quiet, to try and give some insight into what made this man go so catastrohpically off the rails. Rebus becomes fascinated with the dead man and his motives, and when the military police start sniffing around it makes him suspect that this thing might go a lot deeper than at first it seems.
But, before very long, Rebus too finds himself under investigation. A petty criminal who had been stalking and harassing his colleague and friend Siobhan (pronounced "Shivawn". As one character puts it, "So that's how it's spelt.") Clarke has been found burnt to death in his home. And not everyone is prepared to believe Rebus's excuses for his injuries...
For me, at least, this is surely going to be crime novel of the year. Rankin (so good he has already been awarded an OBE) has produced another outstanding novel of "Scots noir", which is sure to only cement his immense reputation among his fans as well as garnering him a good few more.
His prose and plots work like an acid, gradually corroding the genial touristy facade of the city and showing us the dark oily mechanics beneath. His writing is crisp and powerful, building atmosphere and character with a deceptive ease. His dialogue is sharp and realistic, and at times very clever, while his plotting is thick and complex. Everything hangs together beautifully.
As a Rebus novel, this one is, if not quite the strongest, definitely unique. There's no real whodunnit type mystery here, but Rankin makes the whydunnit aspects just as fascinating. Also fascinating is Rebus himself, who is ever so slightly disturbed by the parrallells he sees between himself and the killer, and who continues to grow and evolve as he ages, becoming softer yet harder at the same time, if at all possible, while still retaining the dark "lonerness" that has endeared him to so very many. However, this time around the fascination of Rebus himself is almost equal to the fascination of his increasingly complex and interesting relationship with his colleague DS Clarke (who is pretty darn interesting just by her self, busily avoiding social contact and living in a style eerile similar to that of her boss) which here sometimes threatens to become the main psychological draw of the story, rather than Rebus. This has been in the coming for several books now. At times he seems fatherly towards her, at times merely friendly (which is in itself unusual) and at times we realise just how much he has come to care, even though he doesn't always seem to know it himself. A particularly interesting happening here is how Clarke is forced to accompany him everywhere and act as his "hands". ("How will you go to the toilet?" "A man's got to do what a man's got to do.")
A Question of Blood is an outstanding novel, dark and fascinating, this is Rankin at his best, and that is something indeed
on 3 October 2015
Rebus is back and this time it's personal!
There was a certain poignancy about re-reading this novel which opens with the immediate aftermath of a gunman entering a prestigious private school and killing two pupils and wounding another before turning his weapon on himself as news broke of yet another mass-shooting on an American campus, this time in Roseburg, Oregon. On the other hand, that is now such a frequent occurrence that almost any time I might have revisited this novel would have clashed with such an outrage.
The gunman was identified as Lee Herdman, a readily-recognised figure around South Queensferry where he owned a motor boat and gave water skiing lessons and took tourists for trips around the various islets in the Firth of Forth at breakneck speed. After news of the killings broke it very soon emerged that Herdman was an ex-soldier and had, in fact, been a member of the SAS. Very soon the killings are being described as a combat veteran 'losing his marbles' or 'throwing a maddie'.
It is not Rebus's case but he is pressed to assist the investigation in view of his own experiences in the army, and his (failed) attempt many years before to join the SAS. He is, however, beset with other problems. His hands have been hideously scalded, leaving him virtually helpless and unable to perform even the simplest of manual tasks. Meanwhile, a small-time criminal who had been stalking Rebus's colleague Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke and making her life a misery, is found burnt to death in his own home, having been seen drinking with Rebus earlier that evening. It doesn't take the senior management team at Lothian and Borders Police long to add two and two together, though it is not clear whether they are making four or five. In the meantime, he and Clarke are helping out with the school killing, uncovering a morass of tensions within the school and among the pupils' families.
This novel features all of Rankin's customary skill. The descriptions of Edinburgh are as clear and haunting as ever, and the two glorious bridges seem to loom over South Queensferry in a menacing way. There are several subplots, all of which are dextrously managed, and the characters are as plausible as ever.
on 30 January 2004
This is the 15th book in the Inspector John Rebus series (not counting the 2 books of short stories) and once again Rebus is hard at work intimidating criminals and annoying his superiors. This book is a little unusual in that Rebus is actually working with partners, alternating between Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke and Detective Inspector Bob Hogan.
The reason for Rebuses acceptance of assistance comes from the fact that both of his hands have been very badly scalded, so badly that he even has trouble drinking a beer or lighting a cigarette (shocking). The burnt hands are a bit of a mystery but seem to have been done the same night that a man who had been stalking Siobhan, and who Rebus warned off once, was burnt to death. Suspicions hang over Rebuses head throughout the book.
The main case is a murder suicide investigation that Rebus is called in to advise on due to his previous experience as an SAS trainee. The murderer is also ex-SAS and it is thought that Rebus might be able to add some unique insights. So, rather than trying to solve the question of who committed the murder, it’s more a question of why the murder was committed. During the investigation we get a little more of an insight into Rebuses army days through his digging into the murderer’s past.
Thanks to the extra interaction between Rebus and Siobhan Clarke, I thought this was an excellent addition to what is already an outstanding series. It’s also nice to see that his dogged determination to solve the case and his disregard for his superiors hasn’t diminished at all either.
This story starts slowly as DI John Rebus has somehow injured both hands and has to be driven around, bandaged, while his colleagues speculate that maybe he started the chip pan fire that killed a local lowlife. Rebus is feeling old and unfamiliar with computers which are starting to take over policing.
A school shooting has occurred and Rebus is called in because the man with the gun, who killed himself, had been an SAS member in the past and Rebus is ex-army too. However one of the dead boys turns out to be a cousin of Rebus's and this, along with an impending suspension while the chip pan fire is investigated, means that he has to step aside from being officially on the case. Not that it seems to matter, since the shooter is dead, so Rebus is still assisting the officers.
Then matters speed up as Army investigators come around, the local criminals are questioned and the dead shooter's murky present life is turned upside down searching for a motive. There's a crawly Scottish MP involved, since an injured school boy is his son, which naturally makes reporters follow the investigation that bit more closely.
Great action at the end, and the outcome is extremely well written, a tragedy born of today's society and reminiscent of other classic school shooting stories. This is set firmly in Scotland but is a story for the whole world. As ever, Rankin deserves his place at the head of British crime writing.
Maybe its because its been sometime since I read the last Rebus book, but to me this one is a step up on the previous one which seemed to have a bit of a bored style about it - maybe Rankin was a bit more interested in the premise behind this latest Rebus book.
Can we still call them Rebus books anymore? The other characters, and especially DS Siobhan Clarke are grabbing more and more of the story. Is Rankin getting ready for the day he has to retire his main character?!
In summary, if you liked the previous Rebus books you'll enjoy this one.
For someone who hasn't read Rebus before you can read this one, but you will miss out on the history of the characters.
Only negative point is this series of books is not doing much for Edinburgh's image!
on 30 August 2003
I started reading A Question of Blood first day it came out in hardback. Last time we saw Rebus proper was nearly two years ago now, Ian Rankin is my favourite writer in any genre. I was hungry for some Rebus.
Rankin books that are really good relate to real life, subjects that would make a good member of society put it down, go back to the shelves for somehting a little cleaner. Resurection Men deals with crooked cops, Dead Souls: paedophile released back into the community, Black and Blue see's off just about everything wrong with Scotland. A Question of Blood's subject: school shooting.
Nothing seems to go right for DI Rebus. One, a relative's been shot dead at a posh school in Edinburgh, the killer then turning the gun on himself. And two, a man who's been stalking his favourite colleague DS Clarke has been killed in a fire, Rebus being the last person seen with him and both his hands are badly burnt.
What did I make of it? A Question of Blood wasn't written as well as some of the one's before it. The real-life idea was there, just it all seemed a little dragged out. Maybe fame's getting to Rankin? Try and read the series start to finish, every one makes for a good read. With Rebus, I think you can only seperate the ones you loved from the not-as-good ones. This one didn't make it to the greats. That said, come Rebus book: 15, no doubt I'll read that too. Plenty more chances. I don't think Rebus will be going away too soon. Too much crime, tea and biscuits, back-street pubs no-one knows about.
on 5 May 2015
Been fan of the Rebus stories for a long time. This feels like the rationale's getting a bit stretched. However brilliant, Rebus's career can only stand so many suspensions, huge humps of belief and close finishes. Fun, but beginning to feel a bit laboured.
on 12 March 2012
This is my first full-length Rebus novel having only read a collection of short stories (A Good Hanging) and a subsequent one 'The Complaints' based around his new lead character. I found this altogether more interesting and gritty and enjoyed the read. The characters, plot and story are realistic and well portrayed with snappy dialogues, humour and just the right amount of detail - enough to keep you informed and not too much to bore. Essentially it's a decent story very well told.
The only negative comment I would make is the ending which was while tieing everything up nicely it didn't seem to fit with the rest of the book. Very enjoyable though and I look forward to reading more.
on 1 October 2004
Rankin brings the ancient streets of edinburgh to life - which is great for this exile from the city. This book brings through modern day themes such a revenge, suicide and web voyeurism. I love rebus's attitude and fast talking comebacks - his dialogues with siobhan clark make the book - and his continually clashes with the police hierarchy bring his rebellious side out. This was hugely enjoyable reading - rankin has come up trumps again!