Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The Black Book by Ian Rankin – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘When a close colleague is brutally attacked, Inspector John Rebus is drawn into a case involving a hotel fire, an unidentified body, and a long forgotten night of terror and murder. Pursued by dangerous ghosts and tormented by the coded secrets of his colleague’s notebook, Rebus must piece together a jigsaw no one – perhaps not even he – wants completed.’

The Black Book is the 5th instalment in Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series. Rebus is troubled; to start with, he gets thrown out of the house by his girlfriend. Added to that, his brother Michael, ex-con (read Knots and Crosses) returns to stay with him till he gets his things in order.  His close colleague, Brian Holmes is severely attacked and is in coma and Holmes’ girlfriend hands him a black book that he used to maintain, to Rebus, contents of which she believes to be the cause of the attack. On the other hand, his superiors put him in Operation Moneybags, intended to put one of Cafferty’s (a notorious Crime Boss) financiers out of business but, Rebus is more interested in an incident that took place five years back, where a murder took place at the Central Hotel (identity of the victim yet to be identified) and there was a subsequent fire destroying the hotel. Rebus believes that Cafferty is linked in some way and also believes that the incident is also connected to the attack on his colleague.

I liked it how the author initially focused more on the personal life of Rebus, considering it was totally missing in the last two novels of the series and also the fact that the book didn’t begin with a murder, rather, the investigation was on a murder Rebus’ superiors weren’t interested in. Moreover, this was the first time in the series that I found elements of a police procedural being put to use, where, Rebus was working on a case which his seniors didn’t want him to spend any time on and a series of events also leads to his eventual suspension. I liked it how Rebus’ bossy traits are beginning to be brought out, with the joining of a new DC, Siobhan Clarke, a recurring character in future novels (I have read one of them). Added to that, considering the book came out in 1993, I liked the author’s progressive attitude towards the gay community and their positive portrayal in the book (there is an Elvis-themed restaurant in the book). For someone accustomed to the series, it was good to see certain characters like Matthew Vanderhyde (from Hide and Seek) and Cafferty (from Tooth and Nail) return in this book.

However, the book was very slow and there were too many characters and simultaneous investigations being carried out by Rebus and Clarke that I found it too difficult to follow beyond a point and in fact, this aspect of it didn’t allow me to enjoy Rankin’s writing and Rebus’ cynicism, which I otherwise are some of the favourite elements of mine in Rebus novels. It took till the end of the book for Rebus to connect the dots and I am unsure whether certain readers would be willing to have that much patience.

I have read Rebus’ books off-sequence in the past but to those who are going to read his book for the first time, this is not a great book to start with. However, for someone who is accustomed to the series, I really enjoyed Rebus’ character develop further and I am certainly looking forward to more. This was a decent read but if I compare it with its two immediate predecessors (Tooth and Nail and Strip Jack), not so great. I would award this book a rating of six on ten.

Have a nice day,


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