Two Friday nights ago, I had a treat. I got the chance to meet one of my favourite writers, Ian Rankin. Rankin was in Winnipeg at McNally Robinson Booksellers, to celebrate the launch of his most recent Rebus novel, In a House of Lies. Before I write about the book itself, I’m going to say a little bit about the evening.
Early in the week, McNally Robinson had posted that people needed to arrive early for the 7pm event. I arrived at quarter after six, every seat was taken, and there were already about 70 people standing. Fortunately, I was able to tuck myself in between a CD display, and some of the vinyl on sale. As you can see, I was a fair distance away, but I was able to see both Ian Rankin and former CBC broadcaster, Terry MacLeod, who did the interviewing.
The conversation between MacLeod and Rankin was very well done. MaCleod allowed Rankin to do most of the talking and his questions sent the conversation off in different directions. There were two highlights in the conversation for me(although lots of little good bits as well). Rankin himself is also a very relaxed interviewee, who seems to be very comfortable in his own skin and was not afraid to gently contradict MacLeod when there was a difference of opinion.
The first was the way in which Rankin goes about crafting his novels. I found it particularly interesting that he doesn’t know who the killer will be when he starts the novel, but rather comes up with that as he goes along( in one case completing a full first draft without a killer). He also let us into his personal history, and how that plays out within the Rebus novels.
The second highlight was his comments on the way crime novels are the best way to examine the life of the world we are living in. One thing that stood out here, is his comments that while nations are in the middle of dark times, citing “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, that it’s hard to write crime fiction. However, looking back on those times, crime fiction gives a great entry into putting them under a microscope.
From arriving early to waiting in a long line to meet and get a picture and signature from Rankin, it was a quite long evening, spent on my feet. However, full credit is due to the staff at McNally Robinson. They explained the procedures well. Organized the line well and then did a good job of taking names and photographers for those waiting for signatures. Kudos for a job very well done.
In a House of Lies
Having wrapped up the evening, here’s a few thoughts on the book itself. It opens with the discovery of a corpse,(a private investigator) connected to a cold case that Rebus was on just before his retirement. The family of the investigator want answers and don’t care who gets hurt in the process. As this comes to light, Siobhan Clarke is receiving mysterious phone calls connected to a recently closed case of her own.
It becomes evident early on the cold case was mishandled, and that everyone involved (including Rebus), is under suspicion. Clark, along with Malcolm Fox gets assigned to the team reviewing the cold case, and we are introduced early on to the teams leader (Graham Sutherland), who looks like he might be an ongoing character.
Sutherland and Clarke are connected by the fact that they have both recently had run ins with the anti-corruption unit (ACU). The ACU has also followed Rebus quite closely over the years, but he’s always just out of their reach. To make matters worse, two of the beat cops from the original case are now part of the ACU. Rebus enters the story when Clarke asks him to follow up on the mystery phone calls she’s been receiving.
This isn’t as easy for Rebus as it has been in the past. For one thing, the further he gets into his retirement the harder it becomes for him to worm his way into police stations and investigations. Plus, the years of drinking and smoking are taking their toll and Rebus is slowly but reluctantly having to make concessions to that toll. Including making changes in his musical tastes, which are sprinkled throughout the story. These are musicians that help him write, and I think I might track down one or two of them(for me it’s Southern Gospel and the Mavericks that I turn to).
On top of all this, the ACU officers are on Rebus’s tail as well. However Rebus still rises to the scent of a good mystery. Particularly one where, in the dark corners and on the fringes, lurks one Morris Gerald “Big Ger” Cafferty. Cafferty has recently reestablished himself as the crime boss of Edinburgh and isn’t about to let a cold case bring him down.
As the cases begin to intertwine we see that family is at the bottom of them both. In some cases flesh and blood families, in others families joined together by their calling, such as the police. All these families are held together by the lies they tell each other. Sometimes these lies help the family members to protect each other, and sometimes they leave the family members in danger of destroying each other. In each case the line between the two is quite thin.
The lies are like the structure of the house, where if two many beams and planks are exposed, the whole house is at risk of falling down. So far, Rebus’s house has held firm, but I can’t help wondering if a further exposing will bring Rebus’s metaphorical house crashing down on him, or if he will be able to relocate before too much damage is done to the structure.
In A House of Lies moves the Rebus story-line along quite well. The plotting is as always very good. We are once again seeing more of Rebus’s humanity as he deals with old age and his past. Reading In A House of Lies already has me anticipating the next Rebus novel, and that is a dead cert, without a word of a lie.