THE NAMING OF THE DEAD
Ian Rankin

 


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Orion Books, November 2006
Reviewed by Sunnie Gill

It’s July, 2005 and Edinburgh is playing host to the G-8 Summit, where the leaders of some of the world’s most industrialised countries are meeting at the famous Gleneagles Hotel and golf course. Everyone is on high alert, and most of the police force is occupied not only with security of the summit but also the many protests and demonstrations that have been arranged.

Inspector John Rebus, however, is twiddling his thumbs. It’s been deemed by the powers that be that he has the potential to cause too much trouble to be anywhere near the world leaders or indeed, the media, which has descended on Edinburgh.

That changes when a Scottish politician plunges to his death from the walls of Edinburgh Castle. No one wants negative publicity at such an early stage so Rebus is pushed to rule the death a suicide. The apparent lack of a note and motive for suicide bother Rebus and he refuses to close the case.

But that case is quickly overtaken by another potentially more deadly one. Some scraps of clothing left near a “clootie well” near the site of the summit lead Rebus to believe that there is a serial killer, murdering rapists recently released from prison. The authorities want Rebus to put the case on the back-burner until after the summit, but Rebus refuses to co-operate. Aided by Siobhan Clarke, who has her own agenda – someone has assaulted her mother who was taking part in the protests – John Rebus sets about untangling the clues, fighting his way through a maze of bureaucratic stone-walling by those who want the summit to go smoothly.

When an author uses a setting such as this as the backdrop for a novel, it can be fraught with peril. There aren’t many who don’t know about the G8 summit and the main players. All it can take is one minor error to jolt the reader out of the time and place. For the most part Rankin has succeeded very well. However, there were a couple of minor things that didn’t really work for me. Rebus being the inadvertent and slightly distant cause of President Bush’s tumble from his bicycle stretched credibility for me, and Siobhan’s attendance at the Live8 concert in Edinburgh where she had a back stage pass and saw a number of the performers seemed a little gratuitous. However, that is balanced by the fact that I learned that George W. Bush brought his own sniffer dog with him which travelled in its own car.

Reading THE NAMING OF THE DEAD, I couldn’t help but feel that perhaps Rankin is preparing his readers for the exit of Inspector Rebus. Rebus is spending some of his time thinking that retirement is closing in and wondering what on earth he will do once he has to give up working. There are also signs that he’s slowing down and that his hard-drinking lifestyle is starting to take its toll on his health.

Ian Rankin is one of the world’s most respected authors and THE NAMING OF THE DEAD is another example of why. A complex plot with multiple threads and consistently believable, multi-layered characters all combine to make a totally absorbing read. Those who like their books to end with everything resolved and tied up in a neat little bow may feel slightly dissatisfied. However, like real life, Rankin doesn’t work that way.

Ian Rankin’s website is at http://www.ianrankin.net/

Nov 2006

 

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