Rating: ★ – – – –
This might have been one consecutive British mystery too many. Or maybe I’m just missing my sci-fi. But I was extremely, extremely impatient with this book.
I have identified five primary irritants.
First: the plot. It didn’t hold my attention. In the semi-complex story, the main detective/hero, D.I. John Rebus, is sent to remedial detective school undercover, on a thin pretext of insubordination, to investigate other detectives also attending the school who are suspected of corruption. While there, Rebus manages to solve three cases simultaneously – he ferrets out the truth about the officers’ corruption; he and the corrupt cops solve a real-life cold case as part of their class work; and, through phone calls and quick off-campus visits back to his station, Rebus helps a protégé investigator solve the murder of a local art dealer. I didn’t care about any of these three cases enough to really want to keep reading.
Second: the main character. A blurb on the back of the hardcover first edition of this book describes detective Rebus as one of the most "rounded, warts-and-all characters in modern crime fiction." Maybe by “rounded” they meant “ill-defined.” I never got a consistent sense of his personality. Sometimes he was taciturn, gruff, and rebellious against authority, like Mike Hammer. Sometimes he was pained and wrestling with inner demons, like Matt Scudder. And other times he was light-hearted and sarcastic, readily volunteering advice, like Adela Bradley.
Third: ridiculous, gratuitous, contrived nicknaming of secondary characters and even some of the darned buildings. A sampling:
James "Jazz" McCullough
Morris Gerald "Big Ger" Cafferty
"Dicky" Diamond, a.k.a. "the Diamond Dog"
Eric "Rico" Lomax
Eric "Brains" Bain
John "Perry" Mason
George "Hi-Ho" Silvers
Fourth: jarringly unnecessary explanations of un-witty banter. For example:
"They got a picture of me? Was it my good side?"
"I wasn't aware that you had a good side."
A low blow, but he let her get away with it.
Thank you for helping us out by telling us that was a low blow.
Fifth: the author constantly trying to impress us with detective Rebus's record collection. While sitting in Rebus’s car or apartment, the secondary characters always manage to find themselves going through his records or CDs. This allows them to make studiedly casual references to long lists of offbeat and/or obscure bands (Cocteau Twins, Massive Attack, R.E.M., Arab Strap, Jackie Leven, Bad Company). Okay, I get it, Rebus has an eclectic, educated, wide-ranging taste in music (and, therefore, so must the author). He’s practically as cool as Quentin Tarantino.
To be fair, there were two things I liked about this book. (1) It takes place in Scotland. (2) There is a preamble at the beginning of the book explaining the British police ranking system (D.S., D.I., D.C.I., etc.) which I'd always been confused by. That explanation has helped me a lot in understanding the relative positions of officers in great British TV mystery series like Foyle’s War and Cracker.