Alex's Reviews > The Complete Short Stories

The Complete Short Stories by Ian Rankin
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's review
Aug 02, 2011

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bookshelves: crime, rebus
Read from July 06 to August 03, 2011

I don't know if it's hideously unfashionable to profess a certain love for Rebus, but over the last three or four years I have developed an inordinate fondness for the fellow. This is an omnibus edition of two previously published short story collections: A Good Hanging and Beggars Banquet, as well as the exclusive Atonement (not to be confused with the other Ian's Atonement).

This book is a prime example of why you can't really just assign an arbitrary number ranking to something: some of these stories are four star material, but overall the collection doesn't really rise above three stars. A Good Hanging is Rebus' exclusive domain, and Beggars Banquet is a combination of Rebus and completely separate short pieces. Most readers will probably gravitate towards more favourable impressions of the Rebus joints, especially if they're not huge proponents of the short story form in the first place.
Rankin admits in his intro that he writes shorts as a way of exorcising Rebus between novels, and what we've got in the non-Rebus stakes is pretty good. Short stories being what they are, though, Rankin has no real loyalty to the idea of the "happy ending", providing some twists and subversions. Sometimes the narrator is bad and wins, sometimes they're a patsy, sometimes someone just gets killed and that's the end of it.

They're mostly good, many of them not character pieces, but rather an exploration of a criminal concept. Stylistically, they're all over the place. It's an interesting tonal experiment but not strictly my speed of reading.
One in particular, "The Principles of Accounts", I simply couldn't get my head around at all. "Glimmer" is actually a second person account of being a satellite of The Rolling Stones, and Rankin admits that it could have been more of a vanity piece than it already is.

The Rebus stories are generally Rebus lite, with Rebus taking on cases that either don't mean a lot or don't take a lot of solving. I read this over the course of a month and, looking over the titles of the stories, I have positive memories of all of them.
"Being Frank" is plainly a play on perspective, but the rest of them are effective snapshots of Rebus's life. I prefer full strength Rebus, obviously, but there isn't a disappointing Rebus case to be found here. The only problem is that these were obviously written at different stages of Rebus's career and it can be hard to track the relationships that he's had both with women and his fellow officers through these pages. There's barely a Siobhan to be seen.

The novella Death Is Not The End is the highlight of the collection for me. It was later expanded to become the prime Rebus novel Dead Souls, but here plays out with an entirely different outcome. Dead Souls had one of the heaviest and depressing conclusions of anything Rankin has offered, but not so here. While this fact calls the canon of Death is Not the End into question, it's still a valuable piece of Rebus work regardless.

The Complete Short Stories works best as a curio, and doesn't substitute for a full Rankin novel, but there's definitely more than enough here to offer a rewarding reading experience for those who already care about Rankin's work. For others, I imagine it would be too much like an outsider peering in.

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Reading Progress

07/06/2011 page 0
0.0% "Beauty of this is that I can just drop it when Dance With Dragons comes out, because it's short stories. Hooray for pretty things."
07/10/2011 page 209
38.0% "Man, I think I need to be trained in the art of reading short stories. It's interesting to see Rebus transplanted to this format, because he doesn't get much of a chance to drink and he's built up a bit at a time. Good for research into form, but obviously these are snippets rather than full investigations."
07/20/2011 page 368
68.0% "Rebus sure does like figuring things out without telling anyone."
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