You’d think I can never discover an author or book on my own. Maybe not. Anyway, Ian Rankin is apparently a foremost Brit mystery novelist, whom I’ve only just found out about, and that through a son-in-law. Oh, well. However it happened I’m the better for it. An aside: One of the reasons for reading, as the cliche goes, is to be transported to different worlds. We use this almost as a tool when contemplating a trip. We trying to read novels set in New Orleans, or Paris, or Budapest, or wherever. It helps familiarize us with terrain and atmosphere. Better orientation for us than poring over maps and reading travel brochures. Of course, we like to read books about those places afterwards also because we then have memories to attach to those places and atmospheres. All this is by way of saying that A Question of Blood is set in Edinburg. Fitting, since Rankin is Scotch. And now I have a little glimmer of how things shape up around the Firth of Forth and environs. It is, however, also one of the few places I don’t yet feel compelled to visit after having read about it.
And what does all this have to do with A Question of Blood per se? Not a damned thing, so let’s get to that. Judging by this single book, Rankin is a journeyman craftsman who is good at both character and plot. His main man is a police detective named John Rebus, who is, in the hallowed (cliched?) literary tradition of crime fiction, a renegade with a straight arrow boss named Gill Templar, who has a hard time keeping him in line. There is the further hallowed (cliched?) implication that if she (yes, “Gill” is female) did manage to keep him within conventional boundaries, a good many crimes would go unsolved. That’s certainly true of the one (or two) in question. There are some nods to modernity in that Rebus’ boss is a woman, as is his inevitable trusted sidekick, Siobhan Clarke. A further interesting sidelight is that Clarke is subject to panic attacks, not an advantage for your typical cop.
Despite my rather sarcastic tone, I don’t really begrudge a writer these familiar parameters. Look what Shakespeare did with his little fourteen lines and a tight rhyme scheme. A Question of Blood is quite a good book. The crime and its method are in a sense ripped from the headlines, but the means, method, and motive are nicely twisted. There are a number of excellent red herrings smelling up the works. All in all, it’s a satisfying read with almost no holes in plot or reasoning that I discerned. A rarity. As a public service, I provide the link here for those in my part of the English speaking world who have never heard of, let alone seen or used, a chip pan. I guarantee it will enrich your reading of the book.