I recently had the pleasure of meeting an intriguing author at BookPeople, Austin’s favorite indie bookstore. Readers of my blog will know that meeting an author, for me, is a giddy experience that sends my emotions and writerly aspirations bubbling. Last summer I learned of Ian Rankin, bestselling Scottish mystery author, known for his Inspector Rebus series, and I recently finished reading his latest triumph, Saints of the Shadow Bible.
Detective Sergeant John Rebus was new to me, and as I was introduced to this maverick of the Scottish police force, I found myself eager to learn more. As a rule, I never start a series anywhere except the beginning. And yet, in this case I made an exception. I’d heard so much about Ian’s incredible talent for crime writing and the captivating character he’s created in John Rebus that I felt compelled to start at the end. Of course, the fact that Ian would be visiting BookPeople in January to discuss his latest book may have had more than a little to do with my decision.
I was well rewarded in my decision to stray from my reading norm. From the moment I picked up the book I was entranced. Rankin’s ability to create a world and characters with such striking realism is what makes him one of the greats in mystery fiction. Having been to Edinburgh myself, I could envision myself trudging down the cold and dreary streets of Scotland’s capital city with the veteran detective. As I journeyed through the novel with Rebus, I found myself working to decipher both him and the intricate threads of connectivity being woven through the mystery.
Following the plot is akin to meandering through the streets of Edinburgh, taking twists and turns into alleys and side streets, discovering unexpected establishments and beguiling characters along the way. All the while you’re keenly aware that there is a mystery to solve and subtle clues are all around. You are supposed to be stringing the pieces together. Connecting the yarn on your map of the city. Taking cue from Rebus’s Holmesian bloodhound instinct. And yet, you find yourself befuddled. Captivated by the charismatic (if rough around the edges) Rebus, frustrated by the methodical Fox, and intrigued by the murky history of the Saints of the Shadow Bible. Rebus recalls Doyle’s Sherlock and Christie’s Poirot, those icons of mystery whose skills of observation and detection emit a superhuman quality that mystifies and baffles those of us not gifted with their keen eye. Yet, he still maintains those quirks and flaws that make him unquestionably human, and relatable.
Rankin is a master storyteller with a gift for drawing characters of such complexity and undeniable realism, that the reader cannot help but feel adamant that they in fact could be found sitting in the local CID in Edinburgh. He writes of his home in Edinburgh, as only can one intimately acquainted with her. The cobblestone streets, the historic churches and castle, striking architecture and landscape all pulse with life. The city and all its secret dealings, the mingling of the political parties with less than reputable characters, and the police’s bid to get a handle on it all strike a chord with the reader as interactions not far removed from reality. Add to that the thread of upheaval currently pervading the political climate in Scotland, and Rankin’s Edinburgh bursts will intrigue, mystery, life, and believability.
I am, without a doubt, now a part of the Rebus following and have a lot of catching up to do on the history of the saints, the seedy underbelly of police work in Edinburgh CID, and the evolution of one of the most captivating detectives in contemporary mystery fiction.