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Good Hanging, A


									―A Good Hanging,‖ (1992) is a collection of twelve taut, tight short stories,
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. It can, like most of his work, be
described as a police procedural, within the tartan noir school, and it is set
in Edinburgh, more or less Rankin’s home town. Mind you, it surely isn’t the
tourists’ Edinburgh, with its tartan tea rooms and cobbled streets: Rankin
takes readers to far meaner streets than any tourists will ever see. Within
the book’s pages we see many of the city’s anonymous middle-class
neighborhoods, and its slums. We also meet blackmailers, peeping toms,
and a satisfying quotient of murderers.

However, the stories, well-done as they are, do rather lack the author’s
usual vibrant commentary on the city of Edinburgh, and on Scots
weather, food preferences, social habits, etc. that I always so much enjoy.
But, mind you, the book is still written with power, wit and energy. The
stories also lack the emotional heft that would make them memorable.
Only ―The Dean Curse,‖ about a retired army man, evidently written as a
comment upon Dashiell Hammett’s THE DAIN CURSE; and the title story,
about a troupe of green young actors in Edinburgh for its famous annual
drama festival, actually get any traction. I must also add that these short
stories do not show the playful audacious invention of Irvine Welsh’s
REHEATED CABBAGE. Perhaps Rankin finds the short detective story
format somewhat limiting. (By the way, ―A Good Hanging,‖ is a quote
from the fool Feste, in William Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT: ―Many a
good hanging prevents a bad marriage.‖) Have I ever commented on
Rankin’s – and his creation Rebus’s—mordant humor?

Well, just what is tartan noir? A bloodthirsty, bloody-minded business, to
be sure, more violent than the average British mystery, but, thankfully,
leavened a bit with that mordant Scots humor. Written (duh!) by Scots.
James Ellroy, American author of L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, has dubbed Rankin
the progenitor – and king—of tartan noir. Rankin was nominated for an
Edgar Award for BLACK AND BLUE, for which he won England’s prestigious
Gold Dagger Award. He 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. His novels can be enjoyed
individually; it’s not necessary to go back to ―Knots and Crosses‖ to enjoy
them: but I wouldn’t start here.

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