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by Ian Rankin
Orion, September 2004
416 pages
ISBN: 0752851128

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Some of our supposedly top writers seem to be living on past glories or coasting it, or both. Neither are accusations you can level at Ian Rankin.

FLESHMARKET CLOSE is the 16th in the Rebus series. Yes, it's a page-turner, yes, it's well-plotted, yes, it's high on atmosphere of Edinburgh. But, most importantly, it shows an author in full control of his demanding characters and who still has plenty to say.

Rankin's strength, which sets him alongside the likes of other veterans Reginald Hill, Sara Paretsky and Marcia Muller, is to show his characters changing and growing as the series progresses. Not all writers can do that -- one of the reasons I gave up on Sue Grafton about four letters ago was because Kinsey hasn't moved an inch in character development since the alphabet series began. S is for same old, same old . . .

John Rebus is approaching retirement, and he knows it. But it's not a subject he wants to broach. It's never far from the surface, though, as he and Siobhan are uprooted from their police station and farmed out elsewhere. Rebus, without even a desk and a computer to his name, wanders far and wide in a bid to retain his identity and drive. His bosses would much rather he retired, but when did Rebus ever do what anyone wanted?

The plot is fresh, bleak and raw to anyone who follows topical issues in the British media. An illegal immigrant is found dead on a grotty Edinburgh housing estate, and the search for the killer takes Rebus to a profoundly depressing centre for asylum seekers.

Siobhan, meanwhile, is called on to help a family whose daughter has disappeared. Some years previously the girl's sister committed suicide after being raped. And the rapist has now been released from prison.

The two plots threaten to dovetail. And meanwhile, there's that unresolved kiss between Rebus and Siobhan forever lurking in the background.

One of Rankin's greatest strengths is his scene-setting. Apparently there are now Rebus tours in Edinburgh -- I must admit I prefer to picture the Oxford Bar in my mind! And there's also the music. I must declare an interest here, as two of Rebus's favourites are mine too -- Jackie Leven and Dick Gaughan. The soundtrack, if you're familiar with the music, provides a movie-type backdrop to the bleak tale. But if you aren't, no sweat . . . You can skip over the record collection references without losing anything.

FLESHMARKET CLOSE is a must-read and deserves to ride off with a lorryload of awards. It's an outstanding novel by an author at the top of his form who is poised, confident, assured, but never arrogant. Shame we can't say the same for some others in the genre.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, September 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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