Book review #4 : Set in Darkness by Ian Rankin (2000)

13901617_10210825429418253_1438653037_oI did not know the adventures of inspector Rebus, nor Ian Rankin before starting reading this book. I decided to give its change to Set In Darkness because I found it in my boyfriend’s father’s library. The book cover seemed interesting, and I liked the fact that the action takes place in Scotland for a chance. Why not !

Book cover :

Edinburgh is about to become the home of the first Scottish parliament in 300 years. As political passions run high, DI John Rebus is charged with liaison, thanks to the new parliament being resident in Queensbury House, bang in the middle of his patch. But Queensbury House has its own dark past.

Legend has it that a young man was roasted there on a spit by a madman. When the fireplace where the youth died is uncovered, another more recent murder victim is found. Days later, in the gardens outside, there is another body and Rebus is under pressure to find instant answers. As the case proceeds, the Inspector finds himself face to face with one of Edinburgh’s most notorious criminals…

I must admit, I was caught unprepared by this novel. I don’t know if it was the fact that I was not in the best conditions to read it (let’s say that I took my time to read it), or if it is because I was not familiar enough with Rankin’s writing style and the adventures of Rebus. In any case, it was difficult for me to get into the story and to be interested. Although attracted by the Scottish atmosphere of the first pages, I was rapidly lost and disappointed.

It seems to me that Rankin takes for granted the fact that his readers are familiar with Edinburg, and the names of the streets and buildings are intertwined with historical and political facts linked to the 1979 vote about the Scottish independence and the possible construction of a new Parliament in the region. We could get used to it if only the author had stopped there. But he continues with the same pattern with its characters : they all show up suddenly at the same time, the names and nicknames are jumbled together as well as the friendships, love stories and kinships.

This causes another problem related to dialogs : the characters that already know each other (I’m notably thinking about the policy team for instance) sometimes use words, innuendos or expressions that are close to a private joke. This personal lingo is either linked with their past and secrets, Scottish history, rock music or even beer, which further confused me during my reading because sometimes I was simply just not sure that I got everything right, which was troubling.

It is difficult to continue reading in such conditions, and especially to focus on the intrigue. Again, it is possible it was not the best time for me to read this book, but I often found myself having to read the same page twice, or even go back a few pages back in order to remember an element of the plot.

Because speaking of plot, in addition to the hodgepodge of characters, Rankin is ambitious as he mixes three different intrigues, three murders in the same book. We quickly know they are all linked together – Rebus even quickly emits this hypothesis despite the lack of proofs – nevertheless each story seem to be lost in too many details and information which do not contribute to the denouement and slow the reader.

It is too bad, because almost all of the characters of the book are very interesting : a voyeur who also is a policeman, an inspector threatened to be sidelined who is in the grip of alcoholism, a wary and secretive policewoman… They got depth, originality. We could really feel closer to them if there were either less of them, or a little bit less information. It is the same with the plot : we can sense the research work Rankin did, but the denouement happens maybe too late and too quickly to be able to keep the reader’s interest in my opinion.

In conclusion, it is a book with good basic elements, however they quickly get lost in the digressions of the plethora of information of the book which confuse us instead of kindling our interest.


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