Rainy Day Reads: The Murder in the Afternoon Book Club takes on Tartan Noir

  • Post by Molly Odintz

Please join us Tuesday, January 19th, at 2 PM as we discuss Knots and Crosses, by Ian Rankin. Ian Rankin will be speaking and signing his latest Rebus novel, Even Dogs in the Wild, on Sunday, January 31st, at 3 PM. All BookPeople events are free and open to the public. Pre-order a signed copy!

9780312536923Like many novels considered noir, Ian Rankin’s first Rebus novelKnots and Crosses, falls comfortably into the descriptive category of “starts bad, gets worse.” As the novel opens, Inspector John Rebus is divorced, ambiguously religious, living in Scotland, and still traumatized by his experiences training for special forces twenty years before.

Amidst a cloud of cigarette smoke and brooding, he works to solve a series of murders, each victim the same age and description as his own 12-year-old daughter, Samantha. Meanwhile, threatening notes arrive at the inspector’s door, referencing a betrayal clouded by Rebus’ significant memory gaps. As he fights to find the serial killer, John begins to suspect the carefully conducted crimes contain a message for Rebus himself.

The police procedural barrier between policeman, criminal and victim becomes increasingly porous as Rebus’ own past surfaces more and more as the key to catching the killer. Rebus distracts himself with healthy doses of alcohol, cigarettes, sex and religious musings, unable to preserve a sense of objectivity in the face of increasingly personal attacks. He must turn to his hypnotist brother, skilled at drawing out the secrets of others, as well as hiding his own, to release John’s hidden memories and discover some clue to the murderer’s identity.

The duality of Rebus’ objective search for a murderer and personal search for the answers within himself is reminiscent of Tana French’s brand of psychological thriller, and (to speculate) perhaps has influenced French’s work. Each of her Dublin Police Squad novels contain a case specifically designed to evoke an emotional response from each novel’s police protagonist, destroying the pretense of objectivity in her detective characters.

Rankin pays heed to his own influences with a sly reference to Laidlaw, William McIlvanney’s Scottish detective protagonist who kick-started Tartan noir in the 1970s. The Laidlaw novels are all back in print thanks to Europa Editions, and this highly original trilogy should be required reading for all fans of murderous behavior and miserable weather.

Many procedurals tend towards a depiction of detectives as near God-like in their Archimedean point of objectivity. I much prefer a detective with emotions, with a past, and with a messy, uneven divide between personal and professional concerns. Ian Rankin, in his first Rebus novel, certainly delivers. And while Rebus’ life may be quite messy, Rankin’s plotting and prose are tight, tense, and lean.

Copies are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. All book clubs are free and open to the public, and book club members receive 10% off of their purchase of their monthly book club title.

ATTENTION, BOOK CLUB MEMBERS: Starting in February, the Murder in the Afternoon Book Club will change its meeting time to the third Monday of the month at 1 PM. On Monday, February 15, at 1 PM, the Murder in the Afternoon Book Club will discuss Megan Abbott’s cheerleader noir Dare Me with a special call-in from the author. 

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