Ian Rankin – Black and Blue (1997)
- Allan Radcliffe
- 1 January 2005
100 Best Scottish Books of All Time
Ian Rankin is one of this country’s most prolific and commercially successful authors. No writer has chronicled the changing face of Edinburgh so vividly nor in such minute detail. Since 1987’s Knots and Crosses, the investigations of his celebrated creation John Rebus have taken the former SAS operative turned hard-drinking detective and pop music aficionado right across the capital, from tourist spot to seedy underbelly.
So, why single out Black and Blue for particular praise? Firstly, the Golden Dagger Award-winning novel finds Rankin really hitting his stride in balancing various plot strands and diversions. The book opens with the brutal death of a North Sea oil worker, which leads Rebus to Aberdeen, the rigs and possible mob connections. The flight north arrives at exactly the right time to avoid some awkward questions concerning a re-opened case, during which Rebus may have been complicit in bending the rules to secure a conviction. Into these threads and among the characteristically gritty, realistic verbal exchanges, Rankin effortlessly weaves a series of copycat killings, aping the pattern of the notorious Bible John who enjoyed a brief reign of fear in Glasgow in the 1960s. Meanwhile the ‘Johnny Bible’ phenomenon is being observed with uneasy fascination by the original perpetrator.
Rankin’s ability to direct these divergent strands towards an exhilarating conclusion is nothing less than astonishing. Also exceptional is the way in which the author applies his talent for brilliantly evoking a place and its history to the wider Scotland, boldly lifting the hard-bitten detective from his usual haunting ground and allowing him to cast his disparaging eye around the ever-changing west and north.
View the complete list of the 100 Best Scottish Books.