Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ian Rankin's The Falls

Rankin, Ian. The Falls. New York: St. Martin's Minotaur, 2000.

"'What's life without a bit of risk?'"
'A much pleasanter, less stressful experience.'" (p. 175)

How can one not love a book that contains such lines spoken between two of its characters? I haven't actually finished this book yet, as life (or maybe blog posting) seems to have gotten in the way of reading these days, but I wanted to post on it before the Connecticut mystery book group meets this evening, if for no other reason than to tell Michael I am cursing him up and down for choosing this book. I really did not need to be introduced to yet another great detective to love, which means yet another series of books (and this series contains loads of them) I must read.

I'm about 2/3rds of the way through the book, and I've discovered it's not an easy one to describe. I told Bob this afternoon that it's just so much fun, and he said, "Fun?" And I said, "Well, yeah. It's got all these different components: crossword-puzzle-like clues, a supernatural-sort-of-creepiness, a possible serial killer, and a little romance, as well." Bob's been reading a lot of John Sandford lately, so his next question, was, "Is it a nail-biting, John-Sandford-thriller-sort-of-fun or an Agatha-Christie-puzzle-it-out-sort-of-fun?" I wasn't quite sure how to answer that. In some marketing copy or review for it somewhere, I saw it described as a "police procedural," but I'd say it's more than that. There's more depth of character than I've seen in say, Ed McBain.

It definitely has elements of a Christie or Dickson Carr puzzle, but it's also got the thrilling, page-turner quality of what I think a John Sandford (having never read any Sandford) has. I found myself saying, "Well, yes, and well...yes." In fact, what I'd say it's most like is Ross Macdonald (one of my favorites, in case you haven't been able to figure that one out yet), evolved and updated. I mean, John Rebus is a detective who listens to The Rolling Stones to unwind. (In fact, his musical knowledge is wide-ranging and astounding). Case in point: Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer was very into the psychology of people -- what made them tick, family dyanmics, etc. At one point, a pathologist says to Rebus:

"'Endlessly fascinating, what this animal exterior can contain.'" (p. 116)
But:
"...Rebus didn't feel he had anything to add. To him, a body was a body, was a body. By the time it was dead, whatever it was that had made it interesting had disappeared." (p. 116)
I can hear Lew Archer thinking similar thoughts.

John Rebus is also a detective who lives in Edinburgh, my second favorite city in the world, and the city (as well as the weather) is vividly portrayed, which I like. He drinks too much (of course. I have a knack for enjoying the company of people who drink too much, as long as I don't have to live with them), but I don't blame him. I'd self medicate, too, if I had his job and lived all alone. He's a detective with a wry sense of humor, who does things his way and is not one to play by the rules when he thinks he's right. Thus, I am completely confident that he's going to figure this one out.

Right now, I haven't got a clue whodunnit. Rankin certainly keeps us guessing (he didn't even let us know whether a particular victim was alive or not until about halfway through the book), but I've been paying close attention and am beginning to narrow down the suspects. For me, that's the sign of a good mystery writer. I like being strung along, working alongside the detective, and I don't even mind if I get it wrong (as long as the final answer doesn't turn out to be completely absurd and unbelievable). And now, I think I will get back to it, so I can find out whether or not my detecting skills hold up in Edinburgh. When I'm done, I'll join you at the pub for some malt whisky and let you know what I thought of the ending.

5 comments:

knitseashore said...

Sounds amazing, compared to my current mystery, "The Inspector and Mrs. Jeffries" by Emily Brightwell. It's an "English cozy" but not as Victorian as they say on the jacket copy.

Emily Barton said...

Ms. Knits, well, this does sound like it's a bit more exciting than that. I'm going to have to do a post soon on misleading cover copy. Bob and I were laughing hysterically the other night over the ridiculous nature of a lot of the cover copy we read.

Dorothy W. said...

I'm glad you are liking the book -- everyone in the group liked it too, with some caveats here and there, but there was a clear consensus that this is one of the best we've read (maybe not better than Hammett). I'm going to have to read more Rankin too, because much of the pleasure for me came from learning about the interesting world he's created, and I want to know more. The mystery was good, but for me was less interesting than the characters and the place.

litlove said...

Oh no! I had managed to avoid Ian Rankin up until now, assuming he was grim and gritty and violent, but you've made his books sound so interesting! Oh dear, and he HAS written a lot....

Emily Barton said...

Dorr, it's a great book. Glad to hear everyone else liked it, too, so I didn't have another one in which I was "odd man out." I'll post final thoughts on it one of these days. And I agree with you about the world he's created being what makes it so interesting.

Litlove, I definitely think you'd like Rankin -- grim at times, but not too gritty or violent, and if this one is any indication, very psychological.