18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
The first Rebus, flat and hesitant,
This review is from: Knots And Crosses (Inspector Rebus) (Paperback)
The first of the Rebus novels and interesting as a source of background for the more developed character who would emerge in later works. This is a very limited piece of writing - the sort a teacher might describe as "showing promise". Rankin goes on to much better work, and his growth in literary maturity and confidence will shine through.
Rankin uses a simple, direct plot. He imports clichés - serial killer, revenge, the policeman and his family under threat. He hasn't made up his mind whether to write a police procedural or a thriller. He doesn't really nail his colours to the mast, so the plot and the characterisation drift innocuously in places. Even the background colour of Edinburgh is sparse - as if it might be a marketing mistake to make the book too Scottish ... or as if no one could believe evil would visit Edinburgh.
Indeed, Rankin does agonise at places in the book, reminding the reader that Edinburgh has its own history of grave robbers and murderers, that the city might present itself as a tourist, cultural, and political centre, but it is also a city which experiences violence, drugs, poverty. And it's the city of Stevenson, the source, perhaps, of his Jekyll and Hyde.
So "Knots and Crosses" is a bit coy. There is little use of Scots languages - it's a very English novel in that sense. This is far removed from, say, "Trainspotting". It introduces Rankin, a police sergeant who believes in god but who can't find a church he quite believes in. He's a man with a failed marriage, a fragile relationship with his daughter, and a successful brother. And Rebus is a man with a military past who is now being plagued with anonymous letters which distract his attention from a spate of murders which have begun to trouble the city.
The plot is a bit simplistic, it doesn't take much effort to work out whodunnit, the conclusion lacks tension and drama, the characters are a bit flat ... and Rebus' military background is provided courtesy of reading a book on the SAS. Rankin doesn't really get inside the man. Instead, he toys with a stereotype.
He resolves this in later novels. Rankin does grow enormously as an author in his later works, and it is well worth persevering. Reading "Knots and Crosses" helps you understand the development of the author rather than the character, but it does give insights into the series. However, I would advise you to buy "Rebus: The Early Years", which offers an anthology of the first three Rebus novels ("Knots and Crosses", " Hide and Seek", and " Tooth and Nail"). This is far better value, and it will help you see the growth and maturity in Rankin's writing rather than just dismissing him because of the limited nature of his first creation.