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Customer Review

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hmm..., 25 Aug. 2002
This review is from: Knots And Crosses (A Rebus Novel) (Paperback)
I really don't know what to make of this book. It's miserable, I can tell you that straightaway - the depressing grey drizzle of the Edinburgh rain endured by Rebus and friends is a good (if over-used) allegory for the grim tone of this novel. I hardly left the book feeling cheered up. Yet Rankin does have a talent for writing tense confrontation scenes, and the denoument is a corker.
Perhaps my problem was that I kept mentally comparing this book to the writings of Raymond Chandler. Both Rankin and Chandler wrote about hard-boiled detectives in the seedy underbelly of society, but Chandler imbued his work with a dark beauty that shone through, whereas Rankin's Edinburgh is just dark. Also, whereas the mysterious Philip Marlowe was a character who bordered on the mystical, Rebus is just a bastard (I know we can't swear in Amazon reviews, supposedly, but if the word "bastard" offends you then you're probably not going to enjoy Ian Rankin!). Yes, at times in the novel I did feel deeply sorry for him and what he had gone through, and was going through, but I never felt particularly drawn to him, as I did with Marlowe. Maybe this genre of fiction just isn't my cup of tea, but Chandler could write well enough to make even I enjoy this kind of thing.
The Rankin/Chandler comparison is more of a double-edged sword, however. On the one hand, Rankin's use of detective cliches (everyone seems to be trying to quit smoking, drinks whisky, live alone in tatty flats etc.) doesn't mix with the very British society and very British police force described in the novel - you could argue that Rankin shoots himself in the foot because his writing is sometimes too good for his ideas. This is the other side of that double-edged sword: the Rankin/Chandler comparison also comes to mind because the former possesses some of the imaginative prose of the latter, and there are a couple of paragraphs (though none come to mind) in Knots & Crosses (what a horrible title, BTW!) that almost match Chandler in their poetry. On the whole, though, I wasn't as impressed with the depiction of Edinburgh & Fife (having just returned from a holiday there yesterday) as the other reviewers here, and I didn't care for all that tourist-bashing! Yes, I took a photo of the Scott monument with my expensive Japanese camera, but I don't think I was as naive as to think that Edinburgh is poverty- and crime-free. But mostly, I just didn't find his descriptions evocative enough, which was bad as at one point I was reading a description of a scene (the first couple of chapters, it was) whilst sitting in a car in the same location, rain and all.
So, to borrow a line from one of my other Amazon book reviews, this is not an average book, it's a book that is sometimes good (I didn't find the serial killer plot especially hackneyed, myself) and sometimes not-so-good. But whereas the novel I was reviewing then continued to puzzle me with its dual nature even after I'd finished it, after putting down Knots & Crosses (after just two days' reading) I was just left with the impression of an unremarkable crime novel with a few interesting ideas, and a smattering of out-of-place Chandlerisms in a fictional world ultimately closer to Inspector Morse's Oxford than Chandler's Los Angeles.
Three stars, then.
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