This October will see the release of Even Dogs in the Wild, the 20th John Rebus novel. To celebrate, this week I re-read the first book in the series, Knots and Crosses, which I first read in High School, about twelve years ago now. And while it doesn’t have the depth, or the deftness, of the later Rebus novels, Rankin’s talent is there for all to see. Knots and Crosses is unrefined, but still taut, and a true page-turner.
A series of killings of young girls has Edinburgh reeling. John Rebus, an ex-SAS trooper, now police detective, is one of many investigators on the case, doggedly chasing up leads, but demonstrating an unfathomable lack of foresight as he ignores the most obvious of clues. Not that Rebus is cognizant of his failings; this is a man who is deeply scarred by his training, having suffered a nervous breakdown as a result, then a divorce. Rebus isn’t the unshakable crime-fighter we’re accustomed to; he’s cursedly human. He buries bad memories, drinks too much, and displays an over-reliance on sarcasm to shroud his true feelings. In other words, he’s just like us, only he carries a badge, enabling his mission for justice.
Unfortunately for Rebus, these murders have a personal connection, and bringing an end to Edinburgh’s terror will require delving into those long-repressed memories with the help of his brother, who has a sordid past of his own. And all the while there’s a reporter circling, looking to unleash his own brand hell on the Rebus’.
Knots and Crosses demonstrates Rankin’s storytelling finesse. This is a wonderfully spun mystery, with evocative snapshots into Rebus’s past, laying the foundation for the series that will soon eclipse twenty novels. Rankin’s prose is distinct; while I have a penchant for Chandler-esque writing, Rankin’s is a tad more ostentatious, but it works. He’s more of a stylist than the likes of Connelly or Child, two of my favourite crime writers, and it’s fascinating purely from a craftsmanship perspective how his tone has developed during his career.
A very fine debut for Inspector John Rebus, Knots and Crosses is a novel that impressed second time round. My only lingering regret is that October is a long way off. Why’d I remind myself of how good Rankin is? I might dig into his backlist a few more times before Even Dogs in the Wild.