October 27, 2007

Ian Rankin, Exit Music

Not long ago I observed that I would be sorry to see the last of Ian Rankin's surly Scotch-soaked detective, John Rebus. Having now read Exit Music, my anticipated regrets are confirmed; Exit Music shows both Rankin and Rebus in characteristically good form. I don't have much to add to what has been said about it already in reviews and other blogs (Miriam Burstein at The Little Professor, for instance, has a nice post on it), except to remark that this series exemplifies the challenge writers in this genre face with characterization--most of the characters, for plot and suspense reasons, need to be a degree opaque--as well as the best way they find out of it, namely the series characters, whose characterization can be enriched across many volumes even as, as characters, they change and develop. In this series, of course, it's not just Rebus (who doesn't really change much, actually, though we know him better and better), but Siobhan Clarke who offers the human interest and complexity that move the books beyond the superficiality to which 'puzzle' mysteries are vulnerable. At the same time, Rankin keeps a careful balance between personal and procedural developments. The close engagement between Rebus and Edinburgh's history and politics, a thematic preoccupation since Knots and Crosses, is in full play here as well; in fact, Rebus's brooding here about the city's "overworld," which he finds as threatening and corrupt as its "underworld," reminded me very much of that first novel. Because we end up having relationships with series characters across long swathes of our own lives, Rebus's brooding on the way his work has dominated his life and identity, and therefore on what and who he will be after retirement, couldn't help but make me reflect on my own choices--and my own aging...in this respect at least, I appreciate Sue Grafton's decision to keep Kinsey Millhone back in the 1980s (no cell phone, never mind an iPod), though probably that is also one reason, among others, why that series seems to me rather to have stagnated.

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