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Fleshmarket Close

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Seriously literary thriller


The first of Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels, Knots and Crosses, left me unconvinced. Then a friend put me on to the scarily brilliant Black and Blue. And another friend recommended this. And now I’m totally hooked.

Fleshmarket Close has everything you could look for in a thriller, and a literary style all its own into the bargain. The plot is complex and brilliantly handled, weaving together what at first seem like unrelated events: the brutal murder of an illegal immigrant, the disappearance from home of a teenage girl, and the uncovering of two skeletons underneath a concrete floor. All this set against the background of asylum-seekers in and around contemporary Edinburgh.


At some point in this ongoing series Detective Inspector Rebus has been given a sidekick, Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke, who plays a very similar role to that of Barbara Havers in Elizabeth George’s novels. Except that here there is the distinct possibility of romance... Or is there? Rebus may have other fish to fry in that department. As may Clarke... Unless the two of them are just playing hard to get...


The plot thickens at a terrific pace, and the way things are all worked out is both ingenious and completely plausible. But it is the social and human dimensions that make this novel stand head and shoulders above so many others. It provides a clear picture of human fallibility, and the gross imperfections of the society politicians would have us believe is so wonderfully organised. More than that, contrary to so many novels and films in which the baddies get their come-uppance and the goodies live happily ever after, there is no simplistic, Star Wars-style division between good and evil with Rankin. The “goodies” are often very far from happy (and sometimes not exactly good either...), and drown their sorrows in repeatedly copious quantities of alcohol, while some of the “baddies” live in luxury. And, who knows, some of the goodies may just be kind of in league with some of the baddies. But that would be to spoil the plot...


The TLS critic who compares Rankin to the 19th-century French novelist Balzac on the back-cover of the paperback has made a very valid point, it seems to me. The Rebus series represents, it would appear, a complete panorama of Edinburgh society, akin to the portrayal of Paris in Balzac’s Comédie Humaine. I’m now keen to get stuck into the novels I’ve still to read.


And this summer I found the Oxford Bar in Edinburgh, and downed a few jars there, in the jovial company of MisterHobgoblin and Kimberley :beerchug:. I'd assumed there was a good chance Rankin would be there propping up the bar - but apparently Rebus's boozing is not inspired by Rankin himself...

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