Monday, February 22, 2021

The Black Book - Ian Rankin

The Black Book, originally published in 1993, is the fifth novel in Ian Rankin’s more-popular-than-ever Inspector John Rebus series. I didn’t begin reading the Rebus books until 2003’s A Question of Blood, but it’s been a favorite detective series of mine ever since picking up that one. In more recent months, I’ve started reading the novels from the beginning, fascinated all the while to watch Rebus and his supporting cast gradually morph into the characters I know so well from the later books. It is, I think, in this fifth novel that Ian Rankin really hits his stride, and The Black Book is now one of my favorite ones in the entire series. 


On display is an early look at the cranky, funny, insightful, dedicated cop that Rebus really is. Already his doctor has told him to quit smoking and to eat better - an ominous hint of what Rebus’s health will be like just a couple of decades into the future. Because the man spends so many hours of his day working cases, he finds it difficult to share his life with anyone, something he regrets only until he gets so busy again that his social isolation slips from his mind. He is reckless when it comes to placing himself in physical danger, and his equally reckless policing methods always see him in danger of finally losing his badge for good. But with one exception - finally putting away “Big Ger” Cafferty - John Rebus always gets the job done. 


“On Monday morning word went around St. Leonard’s police station that Inspector John Rebus was in an impressively worse mood than usual. Some found this hard to believe, and were almost willing to get close enough to Rebus to find out for themselves…almost.”


Rebus has now reached the stage of his policing career where he effectively serves as mentor to the younger cops who report to him. That is the kind of work relationship he has with DS Brian Holmes and, especially, with DC Siobhan Clarke. At the moment, though, Rebus is also dealing with his ex-con brother Michael who has recently returned to Edinburgh and with being kicked out of the house by the woman with whom he’s been living. Thus, the grumpiness on display in the above quote. 


And just when it seems that his personal life could not be in more of a shambles than it already is, Rebus gets sucked into a situation at work that rivals every other bad thing already happening to him: DS Holmes gets the back of his head bashed in and is left in a coma, maybe never to wake up again. Rebus wants to know if the attack was work-related, but with Holmes in a coma for days, the only thing the inspector has to work with is Holmes’s “black book,” a notebook filled with investigatory notes that mean little to anyone other than the critically injured detective himself. Rebus, though, is prepared to follow the clues wherever they take him - and after his brother is attacked, it all gets very personal.


Bottom Line: The Black Book is notable because of its development of the Siobhan Clarke character and her budding friendship with Rebus. It also, I think, marks the first time that Rebus and Big Ger Cafferty butt heads in a face-to-face confrontation. Interestingly, almost three decades later, Rebus will still be trying to put away Cafferty, and his bond with Siobhan will be as strong as ever. Too, Rankin is now hitting exactly the right note with his humorous asides and displays of Rebus’s own sense of humor. On offer is the dry, smart kind of wit that never fails to make me laugh - even in the middle of another look at John Rebus’s brutal world. 


Ian Rankin

8 comments:

  1. I've never read anything by this author yet, I do love dry, snarky kind of humor - (I'm know nfor it actually LOL)

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    1. Ha...Diane, sounds like this is the series for you if you are at all into long detective series. Rebus is a cynic who thinks life is really kind of absurdly funny...

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  2. This is yet another author I've never read. I'm glad you're enjoying this series so much. :)

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    1. This is one of my top four or five detective series of all time, Lark. I've really enjoyed going back and reading the first books in the series after having jumped in pretty much in the middle of the 23 books.

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  3. We were in Edinburgh late 2019 and Rankins' books are everywhere, of course. I really would like to read his books just for the love of my home country but it's not a genre I'm really into. Are they anything like John Le Carre, do you know?

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    1. Carol, Rankin's books are not much like Le Care's. I find Rankin to be much more readable and cynical in ways that leave me both amused and shaking my head sometimes. I do like spy novels but haven't reacted well to Le Carre's dry approach to the subject.

      I read Rankin (an most crime fiction series) mainly because of the characters and how they start to fell like old friends after a while. A new Rebus novel is almost like sitting down with an old friend once a year just to catch up on what's been happening in their world. I got that feeling from some of Le Carre's work, but never to the degree that I get it from Rankin.

      Now, keep in mind, that I haven't read Le Carre for a few years, so I'm basing my opinion on his older books.

      Too, if you are familiar with Edinburgh, the city streets and districts are very much part of the way that Rankin tells his stories. I've only been to the city a couple of times over the years, but even I sometimes have my memory jogged a little.

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  4. Thanks, Sam. We have his books aplenty in the local library so I'll check him out. My husband might enjoy them, too.

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    1. I do hope you both enjoy them as much as I have. Like most series of books using the same character-set, the books get better and better as you come to know and understand all the main players in Rankin's stories.

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