Tuesday, April 9, 2013

KNOTS & CROSSES by Ian Rankin

The test of a really good mystery: you can read it more than once and still get caught up in the story, even if you remember whodunnit.

To be honest, I didn't mean to reread Ian Rankin's first Inspector Rebus novel, Knots and Crosses, a second time. I knew I'd checked it out of the library some time back, but I thought I'd read the first chapter and quit. That must have been some other novel. As I read it this time, I kept realizing what was going to happen, and not because the plot was thin (it wasn't). Finally I googled my book lists and discovered that indeed I had read the entire book less than a year and a half ago.

I liked it even better the second time (and am likely to remember that I read it). Now I'm ready to follow in the footsteps of my husband, who, I believe, has read every one of the Rebus books and has seen some of the TV adaptations too.

Knots and Crosses, published in 1987 when Rankin was 27 years old, introduces Edinburgh Detective Sergeant John Rebus and immediately throws him into an investigation of a serial killer who targets young girls. Rebus has an 11-year-old daughter, and some secrets from his past that he can't bear to face, and ... well, the story turns into a thriller in which he's very personally involved.

Rankin's plotting is great: neither so complex as to require note-taking on the part of the reader, nor so simple as to be obvious (though the killer keeps taunting Rebus by sending him clues that, he says, should reveal his identity). He knows how to evoke emotions, from compassion to terror. Best of all, he makes Rebus fully human: on the one hand, a hard-drinking loner with a penchant for petty theft and fornication; on the other, a caring father and a praying, Bible-reading Christian who keeps wishing for better treatment from his vengeful personal god.

I've checked my library's holdings against Rankin's book list and am delighted that they stock most of them including the newest Rebus novel, Standing in Another Man's Grave (January 2013 in US). I've put in for an interlibrary loan on a couple of the early titles that they don't have. It's going to be a good spring.

Oh, by the way, if you're wondering about the title, "noughts and crosses" is the British term for what Americans call tic-tac-toe.

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