Published October 9th 2014.
Can a writer copyright a city? Rankin has surely done that regarding Edinburgh.
The stories in this collection are a mixed bag. Some of them are less intricate than others, but all are filled with small yet important details of Rebus’s/Rankin’s Edinburgh. Thinking about this stories and the appeal they had on me, I was quite surprised with how much I liked some of them. I was in doubt whether Rebus in short form would be as interesting as Rebus in the longer works. Bottom-line: the stories became interesting to me because the plots were less convoluted and I got more of Rebus and Edinburgh, which incidentally I visited only by reading Rankin’s work. I was also very impressed by the fullness of each story. Rankin writes each of them as a neat, self-contained nuggets. Another plus is that we get to know Rebus “chronologically”, ie, in terms of a timeline, from beginning to end.
What makes a good Crime Fiction collection? For starters I like a story where I can't guess the culprit, even though all the clues are there. Another factor that I always take in account is that the writer only has a short amount of time in which to be clever. Rankin is always pretty clever even when the story has really no mystery our culprit in it as in “Monstrous Trumpet”. Rankin is also able to take a cliché and completely subvert and recreate it.
My favourite stories were "Sunday" and “Monstrous Trumpet” (I was laughing out loud all the time). With “Sunday” we get to “experience” what Rebus’ typical Sunday might be while he’s ruminating on all of the mundane matters of life: making coffee, walking down the block to get the paper and groceries, having breakfast, thawing a steak, doing the crosswords, thinking about all his books read and unread:
“Back in the bedroom, he picked up some books from the floor and stacked them against a wall, beside other columns of paperbacks and hardbacks, read and unread. One day he would get time to read them. They were like contraband: he couldn’t stop himself buying them, but then he never really did anything with them once he’d bought them. The buying was the thing, that sense of ownership. Perhaps somewhere in Britain someone has exactly the same collection of books as him, but he doubted it. The range was too eclectic, everything from secondhand rugby yearbooks to dense philosophical works. Meaningless, really; without pattern. So much of his working life was spent to a pattern, a modus operandi. A series of rules for the possible (not probable) solving of crimes.”
“Monstrous Trumpet” is Rankin’s shot at comedy. Rebus is paired off with a visiting French policeman (Cluzeau…) who wants to see how the Scottish cops do it… you get the drift where Rankin took the story to. Hilariously funny all the way.
And of course, being short-stories (Rankin not having enough pages to dwell on plot), we get to know more about Edinburgh itself:
“There was a while city somewhere out there, waking to another night of possibility and accident, chance and fate, pity and fear.”
The final piece alone justifies reading this collection: “Ranking on Rebus”. Not only because Rankin dwells on Rebus creation as fictional character, but also because I became acquainted with some of his literary references, being Muriel Sparks one of them: “and through her I was beginning to investigate the Edinburgh of the imagination”.
And then it’s all about Edinburgh as a fictionalized city. Rankin was always more interested in telling a story about Edinburgh than he was in Rebus as a person:
“This is a haunted city. For centuries it was haunted by the memory that it had once been a thriving capital, before signing that status away to London. It’s a city rife with ghost tours. Its cemeteries teem, and there are myriad streets, tunnels and caves below ground level. It’s a city that hides itself away from the world.”
This collection really contributes to the characterization of the Rebus and his imagined Edinburgh we all know and love.