Strip Jack

Friday, 28 May 2010

With three Rebus novels under his belt and, presumably, the majority of the short stories that comprise A Good Hanging as wellt, you'd have to guess Rankin knew he had the makings of an on-going series when he started on 1992's Strip Jack.

As the first of the stories collected as Rebus: The St Leonard Years Rankin admits in the foreword that the fourth Rebus novel is a conscious move out of a fictional Edinburgh into a real one. Up to this point, Rebus has been operating out of Greater London Road, but with that fictional location about to close he's moved over to the actual headquarters of the Lothian and Borders Police at St Leonards. However one wonders why, having read that comment and noted a map in the Reading Group Notes at the back of the book, it's impossible to locate most of the locations in the story on the aforementioned map.

If there's a bit of the anorak in that comment, let's just point out, having noted the presence of a map in the book, one should be able to locate roughly where we are on it. Otherwise, why bother to put the map in there? You don't need massive detail, and you can read the Donna Leon novels, set in Venice with all its twists and turns in the back streets, without being too concerned by exact locations. He caught the vaporetto here, and got off there sort of thing…

Apart from that minor quibble, a couple of emerging themes get a fairly thorough going over in Strip Jack, with the main one being Rebus' attempts to dig around under the surface to find out what's actually going on where the movers and shakers who actually run the show are concerned.

Kicking off with a Saturday night raid on a discreet brothel operating in a swish neighbourhood (one of the better streets of the New Town) largely occupied by Saab and Volvo driving  lawyers, surgeons and university professors, the plot immediately thickens when one of the punters caught in the cot turns out to be popular hardworking MP Gregor Jack.

Much of that thickening comes when those inside are escorted off the premises and have to run the gauntlet of the reporters and photographers who've seemingly been tipped off about the raid and the possibility of it landing a reasonably big fish.

No prizes for guessing the front page story in the Sunday papers.

Under normal circumstances the standard operating procedure in cases like this is to have the friends and family gather 'round the bloke under the floodlights, but in this case Jack's wife Elizabeth, a noted partygoer who's always been inclined to follow her own path, has gone missing and it soon becomes obvious that Jack's friends, most of whom share the same home town, have issues of their own.

Lizzie's body is found in circumstances that seem to match another recent death, and there's an obvious suspect, a drunk who brags about the first killing, is released for lack of actual evidence, gives a false address and vanishes while Rebus is preoccupied trying to track down a valuable collection of stolen books..

Mrs Jack's body turns up on property owned by actor Rab Kinnoul, a key member of the Jack social circle, and while Rebus starts out sympathetic to the MP's problems, it soon becomes obvious that someone out there is out to destroy him by stripping him of his good name and political standing in a real life equivalent of the Strip Jack Naked card game, which provides the book's title.

But while the aim seems fairly clear the key questions concern the who? and the why? Delving into matters Rebus discovers that Lizzie, the only child of mogul Sir Hugh Ferrie, has a well-disguised private life based around wild weekends at an isolated cottage and the investigation meanders through a labyrinth of red herrings, deceitful alibis, secret liaisons until a remark to Rebus' offsider Brian Holmes brings in the key element that slots everything into place.

Along the way there are the regular Rebus issues with the demon drink, Rebus' own inner demons and the on-going difficulty of maintaining personal relationships when you're a semi-obsessive sleuth working long and irregular hours.

© Ian Hughes 2012