Sunday, 10 November 2013

"Saints of the Shadow Bible", Ian Rankin

It's been a rainy weekend, the first proper cold of winter, so the fire's been lit, Jackie Leven's been played, and there's been a new Ian Rankin to read. It's fitting, I've read Rankin in the sun before, but something about a slate grey sky, a chill wind, and the prospect of a warm fug inside that makes his ever noirish Edinburgh inherently more accessible.

"Saints of the Shadow Bible" serves to remind you that crime fiction can be so much more than a police procedural, giving you a sense of place and personality that reminds you why reading is such an immersive pastime. In terms of plot Rankin manages to successfully merge his Rebus/Clarke universes with that of Malcolm Fox, the rapprochement achieved here being considerably more credible than the hostility between the two camps we saw in "Standing in Another Man's Grave". The ageing of John Rebus is handled in an effective way, reflecting both a level of increased  vulnerability, but also some of the power that comes from being a beast from an earlier era, a premise that underpins the entire novel. As Rebus himself says, "I'm from the eighties ... I'm not the newfangled touchy-feely model". It's to the point, and carries more than a hint of "Life on Mars" with it.

Hand on heart is this the best in Ian Rankin's literary cannon? The answer is probably no, not for any precise shortcomings that can be identified, but more a sense that it's not quite as tight an offering as you'll find elsewhere in the Rebus series, and somehow Rory Bell doesn't make quite as solid a villain as Cafferty in all his magisterial darkness. Even taking all this into account it's still a very good book which makes you much more demanding of other crime fiction, and to be honest everything else you'll read this year.

Most encouragingly when I picked up "Saints of the Shadow Bible" in my local bookshop there were a stack of them lined up as customer orders behind the till. Maybe, like Rebus, the hardcopy book and the independent bookshop have a bit of life in them yet.

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