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by Ian Rankin
Orion, July 2002
308 pages
16.99 GBP
ISBN: 075285237X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Ian Rankin is undeniably one of the best British writers of crime fiction today - as well, thanks to the adaptation for television of his Rebus series, as being one of the better known authors. When it comes to crime fiction written by Scots I cannot think of one whose work I prefer. Like his primary protagonist, Detective Inspector John Rebus, Rankin was born in Fife. He studied at Edinburgh University where he obtained an M.A. in English Literature. Later, he won a Chandler-Fullbright Award, which enabled him to study in the U.S. He has also won a collection of awards including the CWA Short Story Dagger and an Anthony award. His books include The Falls Set in Darkness Rebus: The Early Years , Dead Souls Death Is Not The End , The Hanging Garden , Herbert In Motion and other stories, Black and Blue Let it Bleed, Mortal Causes The Black Book , Tooth & Nail, Strip Jack, A Good Hanging and Other Stories, Hide and Seek , The Flood, Knots and Crosses, Watchman, Resurrection Men and Bloodhunt , Bleeding Hearts  and Witch Hunt the last three written under the nom-de-plume of Jack Harvey.

Rankin's work, of latter years, seems to have been taken over by the good Detective Inspector John Rebus which is a pity since there is far more to the man than this dour and tortured character. Beggars Banquet provides ample evidence of that facet of Rankin's writing since although there is a seasoning of John Rebus throughout the stories, other fare as well is served to the discriminating reader in this feast of literature. In his very entertaining introduction Rankin explains that he writes his short stories between Rebus books largely to take a break from his best known character.

In the introduction, too, the author casts some interesting light on his career - how his writing began properly as poetry/lyrics for a young band of which he was a member. His poetry told stories so it was not a big jump from song lyrics to short stories then to his first novel The Flood.

While it would not be possible to summarise all the plots of the individual stories comprising this volume, let it be said that Rankin takes the reader through games of Patience - and a mystery inspired by Rebus' girlfriend, Patience - through puzzles set in the art world and another set in the past, in the period piece The Serpent's Back to the appropriately timed Rebus anti-Christmas story No Sanity Clause. One of my own favourites is the non-Rebus The Hanged Man.

Rankin writes his stories with never a wasted word. He is well known for skillfully excising anything that might be seen as excess fat - not for him the fictional equivalent of cholesterol-clogged blood vessels as his stories circulate through the mental alimentary canal of his readers. Rankin's sharp wit is always evident in his narratives and I doubt the man could ever produce a dull story. If you like your reading in short grabs but prefer ito read a complete narrative at a sitting, then this tightly plotted collection is for you.

Note; This review is based on the Australian edition published by Orion,

Reviewed by Denise Wels, December 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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