Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Mortal Causes by Ian Rankin – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘It is August in Edinburgh and the Festival is in full swing. A brutally tortured body is discovered in one of the city’s ancient subterranean streets and marks on the corpse cause Rebus to suspect the involvement of sectarian activists. The prospect of a terrorist atrocity in a city heaving with tourists is almost unthinkable. And when the victim turns out to be the son of a notorious gangster Rebus realises he is sitting atop a volcano of mayhem about to erupt.’

Mortal Causes is the sixth instalment in the John Rebus series of Ian Rankin. In this book, Rebus deals with the sectarian crimes and paramilitary groups related to The Troubles at Northern Ireland. Note that the book was published in 1994, four years before the end of The Troubles.

It is the time of the Edinburgh festival, and the city is abuzz with tourists while the police find a body inside a cellar in a more isolated area of Edinburgh, seemingly tortured before killing, in a modus operandi typical of that of the paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, especially the Irish Republican Army. It also so happens that he is the son of a notorious gangster whom Rebus crossed swords with in the previous book (The Black Book), being Big Ger Cafferty. The special branch has been assigned to track down this crime and this is perhaps, Rebus’ most dangerous case till date, considering, he is dealing with groups that have dangerous weapons, receive funding from across the world and don’t have second thoughts about killing those who might potentially trouble them.

Rankin claimed in one of the interviews that he brings out issues of the society through his crime novels and considering the time of release of the book, it was appropriate that he chose the topic of paramilitary groups and their links to Scotland. As always, I enjoy the cynicism (I’d quote his view on Scottish-Irish relationship below) in his writing, especially the ones expressed by Rebus along with his tongue in cheek comments. The book had very little scope for sub-plot and every chapter focused on Rebus and his investigation, and Edinburgh, in particular was used very well – the various locations, the historic distrust between Catholics and Protestants (eg; left-footers) and how each side had different sympathies for various factions during the troubles. I also liked it where the author took it out of Scotland for a short while, wherein, Rebus revisited Belfast; he did have an army background serving in Northern Ireland as introduced in Knots& Crosses and it was good of him to bring back this background of his, considering Rebus does have experience with these groups in the past.

‘Scotland had enough problems without getting involved in Ireland’s. They were like Siamese twins who’d refused the operation to separate them. Only one twin had been forced to marriage with England, and the other was hooked on self-mutilation. They didn’t need politicians to sort things out; they needed a psychiatrist.’ – Page 114

This book might perhaps disappoint those who expected to see a bit of the personal side of Rebus, there was no mention of his ex-wife Rhona, or his brother Michael, there was a passing mention of his daughter Sammy where it was revealed that she was in London. Additionally, I felt a way too many people were investigated, for a 320 page book that sometimes, I lost track and even used to get confused between two different persons that I had to flip the pages back again, to confirm the identities.

It was a very good rebus novel, containing all quintessential elements of a Rankin and Rebus novel, and yes, solve before the police is possible in this novel. It has also laid a strong foundation for the next book, establishing further animosity between Cafferty and Rebus and thus, it would an interesting instalment to look forward to. I would award the book a rating of seven.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,


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