A Good Hanging and other stories

Friday, 28 May 2010

There are a couple of books in the sequence ahead of A Good Hanging and other stories, none of which graced the shelves when I found A Good Hanging, so while we'll be looking around the el cheapo sections of the various newsagencies for the missing stories in the series, A Good Hanging provides a good jumping off point.

With a dozen short pieces, it's an easy read though, given the brevity you're not going to get the complexity, character development and subplots that'd turn up in a longer work. At the same time it’s a handy to keep on the bedside table if you need something to read as you compose yourself for sleep but don’t want to go nodding off and forgetting where you were when you wake up in the morning.

The stories themselves are fine, as far as they go, and most of them head pretty directly down the path of the Rebus instinct versus the apparently overwhelming weight of evidence pointing to a suspect or motive

The first story, Playback, starts from what looks like an open and shut case, as does The Dean Curse, which certainly starts off with every appearance of an IRA car bombing aimed to take out a former Army intelligence operative. 

Being Frank starts with a tramp overhearing a conversation that appears to have something about Greek terrorism, which, as it turns out, it isn’t, while Concrete Evidence kicks off with the discovery of an apparently unidentifiable skeleton under a concrete slab. 

Seeing Things takes an apparent religious vision and turns it into something much more mundane, while the title story takes an apparent suicide that, predictably, isn't. The arson attempt in Tit For Tat poses an interesting little conundrum which Rebus duly solves, while Not Provan takes a villain Rebus is certain is guilty and pins the charge on him thanks to the activities of an overzealous juror.

Sunday takes Rebus' day off and looks backward to an incident he’d rather forget and and had mostly forgotten, while the past turns up again on New Year's Eve in Auld Lang Syne. The Gentleman's Club looks into the motives behind a schoolgirl suicide, while the final story, Monstrous Trumpet winds things up on a lighter note thanks to a visiting French detective with an unfortunate surname as a large work of art goes missing from a gallery opening.

It's a good little batch of pot-warmers and while it's not yer actual first volume in the series it's not a bad starting point.

Having decided to tackle the Rebus stories in turn I could have waited till they turned up in the el cheapo bins, but with my nephew likely to be occupying the unit in Southport for the next four and a bit years we're not going to be down that way as often as would have been the case otherwise (it was going to be every three months or so, but now looks like we'll be doing well to get there once a year).

As a result, given the extreme hit and miss nature of trolling the newsagencies I went on line and found  I could get six titles in two wrist-breaking omnibus volumes. It meant that I was doubling up on one title (Dead Souls) but under the circumstances that'll create some room in another section of the book shelves.

The first omnibus, Rebus: The Early Years comes with a foreword by Rankin explaining that he wasn't setting out to write crime fiction, but fell into it by accident, having set out to rewrite Dr Jeckyll & Mr Hyde and setting it in 1980s Edinburgh. As such, the stories in A Good Hanging fall somewhere between Knots and Crosses and the other volumes in the series, and more than likely represent Rankin playing round in see what we've got here mode.

© Ian Hughes 2012