Is it worth reviewing books which are 23 years old I wonder? In the age of Wikipedia and Amazon is it possible to add anything new with another review of a book written before the Facebook generation were even born? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I’m going to review Knots and Crosses (Ian Rankin) anyway because it’s a fine read and you should all buy it.
Knots and Crosses is the first of the Rebus novels, but it is not the first Rebus book I read (that was The Naming of the Dead last year). So in some respects, while Rebus was new to Rankin as he wrote the book, to me he was more like a friend I’d met before and wanted to know more about.
John Rebus, at the start of our story, is a Detective Sergeant in the Lothian and Borders Police force, living and working in Edinburgh. He has a troubled past, although the details initially are fuzzy we learn he was in the Army and the SAS before suffering a nervous breakdown of some sort, and eventually joining the Police. His ex-wife lives with his young daughter, while his brother carries on their father’s profession of hypnotist.
A serial killer is lose in Edinburgh and Rebus is assigned to the case along with a large number of other officers. Young girls are being abducted and killed, and it’s a race to the end to stop the killer before they manage to complete their dastardly plan.
To complicate matters, John’s brother is involved in something he shouldn’t be, Rebus himself is getting cryptic messages delivered and a reporter is sniffing about for a corrupt police story that might be the end of Rebus’ career.
Knots and Crosses is pretty short, certainly compared to some of the later Rebus novels, and while worth reading it does have some flaws. I’m not sure we should expect anything else in the early stages of an authors work and it’s clear the flaws didn’t stop this book being well read and well loved, nor did they stop Rankin’s career taking off.
The pace is sometimes a little clumsy, with gaps where I would have liked more detail and too much detail in sections where we needed some more speed. The underlying plot is a bit overcomplicated, but that’s an issue of personal taste and I’m sure some people loved the drama it brings. What really sets this book apart and makes it worth reading is Rebus. He’s utterly compelling even in the first book. Not only is he compelling but for the most part he’s impressively real in texture. His interactions with the other characters are always engaging, and the dialog is entertaining and solid.
It’s easy to get emotionally attached to the characters, and that helps with the rising tension towards the end of the story. Some characters are a little cliche and probably don’t get the attention they deserve, but overall, the story is engaging, the writing compelling and the conclusion satisfying.
Well worth a read, at the very least because it’ll give you a good grounding in the Rebus character, which you’ll need when you pick up the much better later books in the series. Better than average despite being a very early novel from Rankin.