Doors Open by Ian Rankin

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Doors Open by Ian Rankin

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Category: Crime
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Rebus might be resting but Rankin has lost none of his skill in creating a pacy plot set in Edinburgh. It's a compelling story with some great characters, at least one of whom I wouldn't be surprised to see in a future book. Cautiously recommended - the heist is not Rankin's natural home.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: September 2008
Publisher: Orion
ISBN: 978-0752890708

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At the age of thirty-seven Mike Mackenzie has achieved it all. The sale of his software company has left him rich beyond his wildest dreams – and bored. He's taken to collecting art and a chance encounter at an auction involves him in a plot to commit the perfect crime. He and two friends from the art world plan to steal pictures from the National Gallery of Scotland, but the beauty of the plan is that they're going to make the gallery believe that nothing is missing. Of course, there's no way that three middle-aged men can carry out such an ambitious plan on their own and it's only when Mike involves Chib Calloway, his contemporary at school and now the local crime boss, that he realises this isn't going to be quite as straightforward as he'd fondly imagined.

It's over a decade since Ian Rankin last wrote a stand-alone thriller and in the interim his name and that of Inspector Rebus have become virtually interchangeable. Rebus has become part of the tourist economy of Edinburgh with the name popping up in the unlikeliest of places. He's not entirely absent from Doors Open either – a policeman comments that Gayfield Square police station is a damn sight quieter since you-know-who retired and Rankin has confirmed that this is a reference to Rebus. He's is still mulling over what to do with Rebus and whilst there's no doubt that he made Rankin's name, it's also left a tremendous weight of expectation on his shoulders.

The other point that's beyond doubt is that Rankin's natural home is the police procedural. Modern policing methods would never accommodate a maverick like Rebus but Rankin's skill is that he makes us believe that it's possible for one man to carry a case on his own. There are elements of the police procedural in Open Doors with Inspector Ransome pursuing the people involved in the heist despite not being assigned to the case, but the action centres on Mike Mackenzie and, to a lesser extent, Chib Calloway – the anti-heroes, as it were.

So, how does Rankin handle a heist? The story was originally written as a serial in New Yorker Magazine, and it's subsequently been fleshed out for publication as a book. There are no additional subplots but there's more about the motivation of the characters. The conversion to book form isn't entirely seamless but the original serialisation does ensure that the action remains fairly steady throughout the book and towards the end picks up a tremendous pace. The epilogue, which made the book for me, was an after thought to accommodate the word count required by the New Yorker Magazine.

The story is convincing too. At the beginning I couldn't believe that a rich man would get involved in a crime but the twin factors of boredom and the idea of liberating pictures held in national collections but never visible to the public would appeal. Allan Cruikshank, a banker dealing with High Net Worth individuals and impoverished by divorce simply wants to have something which his employers don't and can't have. Professor Robert Gissing, head of the College of Art is affronted that works of art should be stored in warehouses where they can't be enjoyed by anyone – better that they should be enjoyed by one person than none.

Rebus might be resting, but none of Rankin's skill as a writer has deserted him. I'm constantly surprised by how few words he needs to use to create a vivid picture in my mind of a person or a place. I opened the book just a few days after returning from Edinburgh and within moments I was back on George Street. It's a city that Rankin knows well and as you read you'll recognise his affection for the place – and the occasional bout of exasperation.

Rankin has said that he doesn't want to get back into the sausage machine of having to write another book in a series ready for each September and given that he's involved in a lot of other projects it's easy to understand this view. It wouldn't surprise me though if Mike Mackenzie was to make at least one more appearance.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy of Doors Open to The Bookbag.

Good books about heists are rare and we can only cautiously recommend Foxtrot Oscar by Charlie Owen and Crooked: Honest Criminality by Bronwen John. Crime books set in Edinburgh are not rare and Ian Rankin is unsurpassed, but we can also recommend Blood Lines by Grace Monroe.

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