The Falls by Ian Rankin
|The Falls by Ian Rankin|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A tightly-plotted police-procedural novel in the Inspector Rebus series. An excellent main plot with lots of sub-plots all neatly woven together to produce a satisfying finish. One of the few detective novels which I can imagine re-reading.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 496||Date: September 2005|
Philippa 'Flip' Balfour is twenty years old and missing. Her father is a wealthy banker and the ears that he's bent have ensured that the police have pulled out all the stops in the search for her. There are two main lines of enquiry. Rebus's protégé, DC Siobhan Clarke, is investigating the mysterious Quizmaster, who has involved the missing student in an internet-based role playing game. It's perhaps no coincidence though that Rebus, something of a dinosaur himself, is determined to investigate the tiny coffins left at scenes of similar crimes over a period of more than twenty years. They're strangely reminiscent of some in the Museum of Scotland which date back to the time of Burke and Hare, the 'body snatchers'.
It's a cracking good story. I started it yesterday morning and it absorbed me to the point where I couldn't get to sleep until I had turned the last of the 496 pages, at three o'clock this morning. It's not just a simple answer about the fate of the missing student either. There are several major plot lines running through the book and various minor ones. I hadn't guessed the name of the villain, but what impressed me most was the way that all the stories resolved themselves quite neatly without seeming to be contrived.
Although the story is completely fictional it was inspired by historical events. Tiny coffins of the type investigated by Rebus were found on Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh in 1836 and only a few years before the book was written (in 2001) the body of a foreign student was found on a Scottish hillside. He'd died from unexplained gunshot wounds. Research has been meticulous, but it's sensitively introduced. I've read books where I've felt bludgeoned by historical background, but although I learned quite a lot about the Burke and Hare period, with which I'm not very familiar, I never felt lectured. Teaching is one of the few jobs which Ian Rankin seems not to have done in his 43 years, but he'd be good if he ever needed to turn his hand in that direction.
I learnt a lot about Edinburgh too. It's not tourist Edinburgh or the Festival, but the real city where people live and work and struggle to afford to buy a property. Rankin lives in Edinburgh and he travels on public transport. Early Rebus novels were set in fictional police stations, but by book four Rankin had begun to use real locations. What comes through is a real knowledge and love of the city.
Perhaps Rankin's major skill though is his ear for dialect. Rebus (like Rankin) is a Fifer and he talks like one. Working people don't normally talk like BBC announcers, but a surprising number of novelists produce characters who sound as though they're fresh from the studios of Radio 4. I'm thinking here particularly of P D James' Adam Dalgliesh, who is frankly far too posh to be an effective policeman. It's a fine line though between producing local dialect which is comprehensible only to the locals and writing dialogue which makes you feel as though you're at the scene. Rankin manages this perfectly.
This is the twelfth novel in the Rebus series and it must be difficult for any author to keep the character fresh. I had thought that there was a little too much emphasis on Rebus's personal problems in some of the earlier novels, occasionally to the extent that they got in the way of the plot. He seems incapable of sustaining any relationship and has constant problems with authority, but when similar problems begin to dominate every novel there is a danger of character turning to caricature. This book marked a return to a plot-based, rather than a character-based novel.
Refreshing too, for me, was the move away from organised crime as part of the plot. Many of the novels which came just before The Falls were based on the local Mr Big. Sometimes it was difficult to see which side of the law he and Rebus were on, particularly when Rebus was visiting him in gaol to ask for help. I don't doubt that this can and does happen, but my preference is for novels based on people to whom I can relate.
If you like Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen books then the gritty realism of the Rebus novels will appeal to you. If your taste runs more to P D James' Adam Dalgliesh or Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley then you might find that Ian Rankin gives you a rather rude awakening. On the other hand if you like the gore of Patricia Cornwell then you might find these books rather tame.
This is an excellent book, but if you're new to Rebus it isn't where I'd start. It could be read as a stand-alone book but it's better if you know what's gone before. The first book in the series is "Knots and Crosses", available as a stand-alone novel but a better choice might be "Rebus: The Early Years" which contains the first three novels in the series.
The Falls can also be bought as part of "Rebus: Capital Crimes" which also contains "Dead Souls" and "Set in Darkness".
Definitely worth losing a night's sleep for!
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One of my favourite authors,every time he has a new book out I'm there at the bookshop,although I must say I don't like him writing as Jack Harvey as much.