Knots & Crosses, by Ian Rankin
Knots & Crosses is a 20 year old mystery novel that I have only just read. Ian Rankin has been a best selling mystery writer for many years - his books are by far the most popular of the mystery novels that we stock. As with many popular writers I have not had to read his books in order to recommend them as he has such a reputation he does not need my support. I have been reading a big volume of non-fiction over the past several weeks - too big to carry around while I have been spending time at a Toronto hospital with my critically ill father-in-law. I also wanted something entertaining but not too demanding - there are times when I am simply reading the same page over and over. Ian Rankin has been the perfect companion at this time - and the books are small enough to fit in a purse.
The first volume, in the now 18-volume series, is Knots & Crosses. Rebus, John Rebus, is our main man. He is a detective sergeant working in the city of Edinburgh.
We meet him visiting the grave of his father - and visiting his brother Michael.
Rebus was a member of the SAS but had left after a particularly brutal experience that still haunts him. I found this a hard novel occasionally - the case that Rebus is working on is one of the murder of young girls - he is reading through the files of all known child sex offenders - finding it tough - as it must be for all the police men and women who do this work, who are witnesses to the horrors in their work to prevent and apprehend the people who exploit children.
Rebus is a hard drinking - hard smoking - recently separated husband - his wife, Rhona, has left him taking with her their eleven year old daughter - and the bed, leaving him only the mattress - and a flat full of regret.
He is a reader, his apartment if full of books as is this novel.
The copy I read is a recent re-issue and has a new preface by the author, written now 20 years after the book was written, it is a fascinating explanation of who Ian Rankin was at the time he first wrote Knots & Crosses and who he is now - and who Rebus has become over the years of their success.
As tough as Rebus is he is also fallible - it is easy to identify with this man, to care about him. There is a beautiful passage, as he comforts a fellow police officer, and finds comfort himself - "They hugged and they wept, draining themselves of all they had been bottling up, all those years of pounding the beat, having to appear emotionless and unflappable. It was out in the open now: they were human beings, the same as everybody else."
I've now passed Knots & Crosses across the room to my husband and I'm on to number two, Hide & Seek. It looks as if we are in for the long haul, lots of quiet bedside reading, and Rebus will be spending it with me, thanks to Ian Rankin.