I once again took a bit of a break from heavy reading by plunging into the thrilling Mortal Causes by Ian Rankin. This was my first Rankin book and I confess that I wouldn’t have thought to pick it up if it hadn’t been for my dear friend DND (My Secret Santa ditched me last Christmas and DND very nicely stepped up and gifted me this book). I’m glad she gave it to me though, because after very long, I read a book that actually kept me awake past my usual bedtime. Most books, no matter how well-written or judiciously plotted, can’t keep me from nodding off after I’m in bed and have read more than four or five pages. With Mortal Causes, I thoroughly enjoyed staying awake and had to force myself to get some shuteye as the book progressed towards its climax.
Now my thoughts on the book. Highly enjoyable, as I’ve already mentioned. As far as the plot is concerned, I couldn’t do better than direct the curious towards its Wikipedia page. It had nice meaty murders, plausible causes and a deeply satisfying conclusion. The characters were among the best I’ve encountered in genre fiction. Especially memorable is Inspector John Rebus, who I imagine with a tired, cynical face and the beginnings of beer gut (If these books had been written in an earlier time, I can see Humphrey Bogart playing Rebus to perfection). He’s so believable, unlike other sleuths like Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot – who also I adore, but for entirely different reasons. Rebus’ world is more like the one I know; grimy, with uninterested people and crime lurking in the most ordinary of places and hearts. The dialogue was wry, well-observed and, thankfully, never with too many footnotes. Rankin knows how much information to give out, without leaving his readers groping in the dark.
Another reason I relished the book was the crash course in Britain’s many identity faultlines. I’m very intrigued by the history of the Ulster Loyalism and Northern Ireland’s fraught relationship with Scotland. The Festival Fringe in Edinburgh forms the backdrop for this particular novel and I had never imagined that the place where one of the world’s foremost cultural festivals takes place has such a violent underbelly. Of course, Islamic Extremists and Hindu Fundamentalists are just two kinds of terrorists and it would be naive of me to imagine that other kinds don’t exist in the rest of the world, but reading a book which uses this different face of terrorism puts things in perspective.
Even if you don’t find your interest piqued by this bit of history and politics, you’ll certainly relish the sleuthing in it. I highly recommend Mortal Causes to those who want a good, reliable page-turner, and I will certainly be reading more Ian Rankin.