―Black and Blue,‖ (1997) is eighth in the Detective Chief Inspector John Rebus series, by the outstanding, award-winning, author Ian Rankin, currently the best-selling author of British mysteries in the United Kingdom. The book’s a powerhouse, winner of the prestigious Macallan Gold Dagger Award for Fiction, and nominated for an Edgar Award. It can, like most of his work, be described as a police procedural, within the tartan noir school, and it is largely set in Edinburgh: the east coast Edinburgh is more or less Rankin’s home town, as he has made it Rebus’s. But Rebus/Rankin clock up some miles in this one, as the cases Rebus is working, or interested in, take him to Glasgow and Aberdeen. In the book at hand, Rebus catches the case of an oil-rig worker, who was based in Aberdeen, but called Edinburgh home, gruesomely murdered. At the same time, an old, unsolved cold case, that of Bible John, a serial killer of young women, who also moved, in the 1960s and 70s, through all three Scottish cities, needs revisiting, as a copycat serial killer, dubbed ―Johnny Bible,‖ by the media, has arisen. (According to the author’s acknowledgements, he based the fictional Bible John case on an actual, unsolved Scottish case.) Furthermore, renewed attention to the Bible John case also serves to focus media attention more strongly on the possible related misdeeds of Rebus’s early mentor, Inspector Lawson Geddes, who has just committed suicide in his Spanish retirement home. Eighth in the series ―Black and Blue‖ may be, but it is still written with unflagging power, wit and energy, crackling with sharp descriptions of Scotland, its capital, its people, diet, social life and weather. Rankin’s evocative descriptions of his home town manage to give us its grit, and its beauty, and are incomparable; but he does very well with Glasgow and Aberdeen, too. The plot is satisfyingly complex, wide and deep: I’ll give the voters of the book’s awards no arguments on this one. Although the fact that Rebus is flitting in and out of three cities, and three cop shops, gives us an awful lot of characters, particularly cops, milling about. I generally can’t finish a book at a sitting, who can these days, and I was occasionally confused among them all. And just what’s tartan noir, you ask? A bloodthirsty, bloody-minded business, to be sure, more violent than the average British mystery, but, thankfully, leavened a bit with that dark Scots humor. Written (duh!) by Scots. James Ellroy, American author of L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, has dubbed Rankin the progenitor – and king—of the school. Rankin was born in the Kingdom of Fife in 1960, and graduated from the University of Edinburgh. He’s been employed as grape-picker, swineherd, taxman, hi-fi journalist, and punk musician. His first Rebus novel KNOTS & CROSSES was published in 1987. His works are now receiving television treatment. If you love British mysteries, he’s a dead cert. You can’t go wrong no matter where you start with him, and this book’s as good a place as any.
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