IAN RANKIN. Knots and Crosses (1987).

04 Jul

KnotsCrosses.jpgDespite his name, Detective Sergeant John Rebus of the Edinburgh Police doesn’t present himself in this début adventure as a solver of puzzles. To be sure, the apparatus of puzzling—cryptic letters to Rebus, a killer who plays games with the names of his victims—do clutter the foreground here. But Rebus fits the mold of a troubled action hero far more than he does that of a cerebral master of detection. The mood and the plot of this novel, which centers on the abduction and murder of several teenage girls, echo the serial-slayer genre that was in vogue at the time of its creation. Working in that genre, Rankin excels. His sense of pacing and characterization combines the best of both the literary and the cinematic traditions of thrill-driven storytelling, and he wields a stylish pen overall. His use of Edinburgh, a citadel of Enlightenment that contains a dark and brooding interior, is likewise apt and well done. (Rankin draws explicitly and exuberantly on the model of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, that great novel of Edinburgh in which a man, er, hides a monster behind his blandly civilized front.) Yet the whole thing has an over-the-top feel. It carries all the pomp and bluster of a holiday blockbuster or a sweeps-week TV episode. For an introductory installment in a series, moreover, the novel dwells too much on the character of Rebus; the murder case revolves too much around his past and his passions. Imagine a first date on which one party skips the usual charming banter and dives straight into making explosive confessions about himself. That, in effect, is what Rankin serves up in this tale. In fiction, as in romance, it’s nice to preserve a little mystery when you’re letting someone get to know you.


Posted by on July 4, 2013 in British, Noir, Novel


2 responses to “IAN RANKIN. Knots and Crosses (1987).

  1. John

    July 11, 2013 at 12:26 PM

    I began collecting Rankin’s books after reading RESURRECTION MEN — a very involved police procedural that is also an indictment against police corruption. I went to the beginning of the series and read this one and found it fairly intersitng but pretty much very familar as well. I tried to read the one that had hints of werewolf legends in it (TOOTH AND NAIL… I think) but I lost interest in that one. I think the faults you outline above are exactly what turned me off about his books. His later books are typical of contemporary crime fiction — turgid and overloaded with everyday life minutiae about the series characters which is distracting and frustrating to people who haven’t read the books in order and thereore haven’t developed interest in those details. This is a big fault of modern genre fiction these days, IMO — too much emphasis on embellishing and building on characters’ lives, too little effort invested in telling a story in each book.

    • Mike

      July 11, 2013 at 1:00 PM

      Hear, hear. I’ve made this point in several ways in several posts, such that I fear that I’m repeating myself, but a major bugbear of mine about contemporary mystery fiction (and you’re probably right to say that it applies to all genre fiction) is the overemphasis on what’s called “character development.” There’s big difference between truly effective characterization and the doting, obsessive attention that too many writers today give to their protagonists.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: