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by Ian Rankin
Little, Brown, February 2005
432 pages
ISBN: 0316095656

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Ian Rankin can write up a storm. He's not flashy, he's not a thriller, gasp-a-minute writer; but he writes tense scenes, and draws characters with such a light touch that you often don't realize just how much you know about a character until you're done with the book. Man, he's good. It took me several years to get John Rebus, but now I faithfully read every new Rankin as soon as I can.

John Rebus has been farmed out, as have all the cops in his department. But he's doggedly working, investigating a murder, and it involves a horrid, ugly, sad political situation; immigrants seeking asylum, stuck in a holding facility in Edinburgh -- an ugly situation that cannot be ignored, in this book or in reality. Then two skeletons show up when a local pub's floor is dug up. The skeletons, however, aren't exactly normal. They're not exactly even real.

Meanwhile, his friend, colleague and sometimes partner Siobhan Clarke gets a visit from a couple whose daughter she remembers. Tracy Jardine was raped and ended up taking her life at 19, as she could not cope with the horror and trauma. Now Tracy's younger sister has disappeared and the rapist has been released from prison after serving his sentence. Siobhan technically can't do anything; Ishbel's old enough to be on her own, and Siobhan doesn't exactly work missing persons, but she puts the word out. She feels sorry for the Jardines whose life was so disrupted and destroyed, and losing a second daughter would devastate them.

Rankin twines the two stories together skillfully, his pacing, as always, is excellent and I cared what happened, and wanted to know. For me, that's pretty close to a definition of what to look for in a mystery; along with interesting, real flesh-and-blood characters, well, I couldn't ask for too much more. And it's not just interesting cops and cardboard cut-out secondary characters; as one example, I like the way Rankin created the character of Caro Quinn, whom Rebus is both puzzled by and drawn to, who's so very different from him.

Rebus strikes me as a very realistic cop; dismayed often by what he sees, unwilling to do the right thing when it comes to ambition and ladder-climbing, having trouble with sobriety and depression because that just comes with the job. He's awfully good at his job though, and you just find yourself hoping it's enough. And the subtleties of his relationship to Siobhan -- that's just exceptionally well-written.

Note: I can't decide if American publishers think American readers are stupid, unable to use a dictionary or what exactly. But there's no reason why the original title of the book FLESHMARKET CLOSE could not have been kept. Instead, what I have is a copy of FLESHMARKET ALLEY which contains, within it, repeated references to the street of Fleshmarket Close. We're readers, guys, we know how to look something up if it puzzles us. It was dumb when they changed that Harry Potter title, it's dumb here. But you have to admit, you're not likely to come across another reference to Harry Potter books in a review of a book by Ian Rankin, now are ya?

Reviewed by Andi Shechter, January 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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