Thursday, April 9, 2015

Book Review: Hide and Seek / Tooth and Claw / Strip Jack

A few years back I ran through a year of reading crime and detective fiction, to see how I enjoyed the genre. I started way back with Wilkie Collins The Moonstone, and through the Golden Age of murders in country houses, all the way up to the modern, serial killer dominated, modern era. I really enjoyed it, as an exercise, and ended up with a bunch of authors I wanted to go back to. But there's always another series to read, I guess, and I only read about 20-25 books a year at the moment, so squeezing them in is a problem. However, when casting around on social media for inspiration for something to read next, I was reminded of Ian Rankin, whose Knots and Crosses I'd really enjoyed, and so picked up the second Rebus novel - Hide and Seek - for the kindle as my next read. I've since read two more, one after the other. 

Reading the series like this has been an interesting experience, as you can feel the character and style trying to arrow in on what it really wants to be. Knots and Crosses isn't the first book in a long-running series; it's too personal, too rooted in a conceit that only works as a one-off (that the killer and the detective may be the same person) and Rebus as presented there is far too much of a wreck to last long as a recurring character. So Hide and Seek straight away as to work to keep him interesting, but also give him longer legs and a more stable working environment. It also moves from the personal to the political; run down housing estates and drugs and conflict across the social and class divide. Edinburgh itself starts to feel like a character, too. To be honest, Hide and Seek isn't as engaging as Knots and Crosses, and feels pretty procedural in places, but I enjoyed it anyway. 

Next up is a proper "serial killer" lark down in London. Tooth and Claw has some lurid over-writing in places, and one it's central twists has been done to death in the years since. Rankin himself, in my editions foreward, admits it was an attempt to get into a popular sub-genre, but the strength of the book isn't so much it's slasher story, but Rebus himself. Down in London he's a character much more sharply in focus and much more interesting. Rebus against the world feels like a natural dynamic, and it's here we really see it working. It's a decent serial killer tale too, in the end, for all my reservations about the motivations of the killer himself. 

For my final (for now, I'll be back!) dip in the Rebus world we head back to Edinburgh for Strip Jack, a book that feels the most fully formed of the four that I've read. Here we have murder played out for tragedy, a collision of people with conflicting wants and needs, dominated by a swirl of lies, deceptions and other, hidden truths. I really liked Strip Jack, to be honest. I liked that it felt ambiguous, that it managed to stay misleading and twisty without every really lying to me. I liked how Rebus himself moved through it, tied up in his own preconceptions and opinions too - battling not just the case but his own ability to see clearly. 

So I need a break from Rebus now, just for a bit. But its been good to re-connect with him, and I'll be back!