Monday, 5 July 2010

Old Town, Top Rankin...

The party's finally over. For both Inspector John Rebus and myself.

Since a stint in hospital for physio last autumn, where I picked up a copy of Fleshmarket Close in the TV room I've been hooked on Ian Rankin's detective series. Never normally one for crime novels - and sometimes not one for fiction of any sort, depending on my mood - I soon discovered the tales of the non-comformist officer to be unputdownable. One reason undoubtedly being that the prose is far less clunky than the stuff I've just typed...I digress; the 450 or so pages were finished around four in the morning having only picked it up at around nine the previous evening.

I'd be hard-pressed to say exactly what Rebus' appeal is. Certainly the few episodes of the TV adaptation I'd seen featuring the spectacularly anaemic performances of John Hannah in the title role had failed to impress, though the later incarnation featuring the impressively world-weary Ken Stott as our favourite DI is a far better watch.

In terms of the books, my previous exposure to the world of the crime/detective novel started way back with the amateur sleuthing of The Hardy Boys (alongside their faithful sidekick, Chet Morton and his 'jalopy', anachronism fans) and more recently has taken in the harder edge of Denise Mina's Glasgow-based work. A few years ago, whilst living in Edinburgh, I got heavily into the Quint Dalrymple series of "future fiction" by Paul Johnston. Although set some thirty years in the future of a vaguely dystopian Edinburgh, the fact that I lived and worked in the city at the time - just yards in fact from the main characters residence - gave the stories a certain resonance; so much so that being out alone after dark having recently read any of the books gave one a certain feeling of disquiet in the city's streets.

These forays into the underworld, though, have been few and far between. Normally I'm more content to stick with humorous travel writing: Pete McCarthy, Tim Moore; 'mad' fiction: Chris Brookmyre and a general random selection of Scottish writers such as Des Dillon, Iain Banks and Alans Warner and Spence.

John Rebus has, for me, been a welcome break in what has been the twelve or so months from hell. The familiarity of the setting - Edinburgh, the easy humour and wit of the writing, the musical references and the pace and quality of the story-telling have all been contributing factors in my immense enjoyment of the series. Mr. Rankin is an immensely engaging writer and brings the warmth and personality of his tweets to the page at every turn. Sadly, yesterday, I finished the last one, 1993's The Black Book. It's actually only book number five in a series of seventeen so you can see that chronology wasn't important to me. I'd been picking the books up in charity shops, second-hand bookshops and online for several months and had always planned - once I got a fair way through the 'set' - to read the last one, Exit Music last, regardless of the rest. Unfortunately for me I found Exit Music for a few quid some months before I'd tracked down Tooth and Nail and The Black Book and, unable to resist the lure for any longer, read the final instalment before the two earlier ones. No matter.

I've finished the lot now, though, and feel strangely bereft. Where next? Doors Open? The Complaints? Read them both already - my brother in-law and I have even mentally cast Doors Open for the big screen! (James McAvoy as 'Westie' and Stephen Fry as 'Professor Gissing', right?) I thought perhaps I'd revert to my travel idiom or perhaps read one or two of the various tracts which have been piling up since christmas without yet - as with so many of Rebus' own bedside books - making it to the top of the pile. A quick library trip in the lashing rain today saw me return with these chaps...

Murder, humour and the tyranny of the round robin xmas letter. Not necessarily in that order.

Any further suggestions welcomed: @singletrackroad

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