am 25. Oktober 2001
A plot within a plot. A body is found, on the premises of a boarded up hospital, which is being renovated to make up the new Scottish parliament house. DI Rebus starts his investigation when another body is found not too far, bricked in a fireplace ... the who did it and why is what keep DI Rebus busy. Between playing political advocate and downing straight malts during his nocturnal investigations, one gets accustomed to this moody and at the same time very interesting and witty character. Thorn between his troubled past, difficult divorce and occasional girlfriends, DI Rebus manages always to keep the readers in suspense. This is not all, a mysterious suicide of a homeless man, seems to be connected to the body found in the fireplace. Even more mysterious is the fact that the homeless man has a very large bank account, why did he live on the streets of Edinburg, homeless? Moreover, what is about the tramp past that does not fit the equation? DI Rebus will bring this and many more intriguing questions to light.
am 10. Februar 2001
Farmer Watson has decided to keep Detective Inspector John Rebus out of trouble by assigning him to a committee concerned with the new Scottish Parliament's security. Rebus inspects the building work at Queensbury House with his colleagues, including fast-tracker Derek Linford. However, Rebus seems to attract trouble, and it's not long before a body is discovered...
I've only read the one Rebus novel before, The Hanging Garden, and in that earlier composition, Rebus seemed to work much more on his own. Set in Darkness is a more of an ensemble piece, and seems to hail from the tradition of the police procedural. Rebus's colleagues are very much in the limelight, featuring Linford's flirtation with Siobhan Clarke, and the 'Time Team' of Wylie and Hood. There are just as many coincidences as you'd find in three editions of TV's 'The Bill' (where the two crimes per episode are always inextricably linked). This is probably related to the Kevin Bacon game, the 'six degrees of separation' (where everyone on the planet has links with everyone else), mentioned in the novel. Rankin concentrates on the smaller universe that consists of Edinburgh, and this is more than enough. Indeed, so flourished is this novel with characters, that if you put the narrative down, you're bound to be really confused when you come back to it.
Not long after 'Skelly' is discovered in Queensbury House, the corpse of the prospective MSP Roddy Grieve is also found there. Siobhan Clarke witnesses the suicide of a tramp who had half a million in the bank. Meanwhile, two men are assaulting women from singles' clubs. Rebus's investigation brings him to Rosslyn Chapel, the cryptic home of cranks and the Knights Templar, the secretive movement that was the first police force, invented banking, that fought at Bannockburn, and laid the foundations of Scotland's Masonic tradition. However, Rebus is far more interested in the Edinburgh masons of the last twenty years, since the previous devolution referendum. Just whose is the body in the fireplace at Queensbury House? Early on in the novel, a historian relates a tale about the lunatic son of the Duke of Queensbury, who ate a servant on the night of the Act of Union, and left him on a spit in the fireplace. This is where Rankin is at his best - he employs the real Edinburgh to great effect. The Oxford Bar, Rebus's local, is a real hostelry. This adds a note of authenticity to Rankin's work, and it's quite stimulating trying to track down all the locations mentioned in this novel. It's also amusing to see Rebus's scepticism about devolution - rogues will always be rogues, no matter where they're housed. Ian Rankin also seems to be warming to his new career as literary critic. There's quite a bit of Hugh MacDiarmid in this book, fairly appropriately, as he was a founder of the Scottish Nationalist party. MacDiarmid also joined the Communist party at a quite inappropriate time. The Grieve family have been in politics for generations, starting from the Liberal Party, from Old to New Labour, with also a flirtation with the Tories. An artistic as well as a political family, they have an 'unknown' MacDiarmid poem hanging on the walls of their family home. MacDiarmid's real name was Christopher Murray Grieve (although he's no relation of the Grieve family here). He's not the only one to use a pseudonym in the novel: so does the mysterious suicide victim, 'Chris Mackie', but for less artistic reasons.
You don't have to have read all the other novels in this series to appreciate Set in Darkness. I can compare this with The Hanging Garden and see that Rankin still maintains his obsession with popular music (but then Rebus is an aficionado too, so that's alright - although this does mean that the inevitable recording session makes its way into the book). This might seem a bit tiresome, but then again I guess detectives do have to have some small talk to relax their subjects. Rebus says he's been reading up on his Edinburgh history recently, but so has Rankin too. Indeed, the city seems almost more alive than the inspector himself, even though most of its tales concern death. The mortality of someone very close to Rebus is brought into question, someone who seems larger than life, and someone with a lot more vitality than Rebus, say... I think one of the problems with Rebus is that he's so hard to picture, and as the TV producers have probably found, so very hard to cast. Rebus seems more thing than man, hard to make out from the shadows (not a pop reference). I see that Rankin's new novel is called 'The Falls' - will Rebus ride the Reichenbach, locked in mortal combat with his Moriarty, in the city where Doyle learnt from Bell? Has Ian Rankin grown tired of his creation? Or has he just developed a new obsession for the music of Mark E. Smith?