Alexander Inglis's Reviews > The Black Book

The Black Book by Ian Rankin
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Oct 06, 11

bookshelves: gay-positive, police-detective, police-procedural
Read in April, 2010 — I own a copy

Ian Rankin's The Black Book is the 5th of his Inspector John Rebus series set in Edinburgh; this is the first of his novels I've read. Although in his early thirties when he wrote this tale, Rankin shapes Rebus with a world-weary cast, delivering a startlingly interior view of his middle-aged detective. Rebus isn't a 20s-something swashbuckler; nor has his passion died -- instead, it smoulders, burning red hot when correctly fanned, flicking encrusted ash skyward contemptuously.

In this outing, Rebus has to deal with his girl-friend who's had enough of him, his returning brother (an ex-con) with no where else to stay except with John, a flat full of late teenage university students on their own for the first time (and sharing his flat he's been forced to return to). And that's just his personal life. On the job, he becomes engulfed by a five year old murder, pursuing the investigation "on his own time" (and literally, too, as he is suspended at one point from the force), which leads to a gay bar / Elvis themed restaurant and ongoing encounters with ghosts from the arson of the Central Hotel where the body was found ... with links to organised crime in the present day. As the story threads come together, Rebus's personal and professional life become entirely entangled as a key piece of evidence to the old murder lands in his hands. And that's just the start of his troubles.

Rankin shifts between a third person narrative focussed on Rebus to the other characters as they uncover their own motives in the moment and on to richly detailed commentary about life and surroundings in the chief setting of Edinburgh. Dialects pop up; the Edinburgh lilt can be heard vividly; and local words are sprinkled into dialogue as a chef adds secret sauce to a favourite dish. Somehow, Rankin manages the verbal sleight-of-hand to conjure this Scottish setting in a way that seems entirely familiar, like ones own home town -- but wait, that's not true is it? And his winning character, Rebus, worms his way off the page like the best of the hard-boiled detectives, utterly convincing and sympathetic but no one's ideal of the perfect husband for your daughter. No wonder the series is occasionally dubbed "Tartan Noir"!

I read the Kindle edition so I can't say it was a page turner. I can say I enjoyed, and enjoyed savouring, every e-inked turn of phrase as it flashed by, reading much further into the night on multiple occasions than is good for me. Highly recommended.
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