Ian Rankin


Beggars Banquet


I read this in  an omnibus, ‘Complete Short Stories’ which combined ‘Beggars’ with ‘A Good Hanging’. Does it reflect badly on me that I significantly preferred the book where the baddies were centralised, and generally got away with their frequently ugly crimes? The problem, I think, was that in ‘A Good Hanging’, Rankin’s popular, fairly text-book detective (rumpled, single, 40s, cynical, drinking, hard-bitten – but sharp, and good with the ladies) Rebus has to solve his crimes within only a few thousand words. So coincidences are more extreme, deductions based on less, suspects few, and credulity more strained. Rankin is still a competent narrator, and he remembers to drop little extras – such as Rebus’ minor hobby of a love-life, and Edinburgh as a craggy extra character – along with the procedurals. But I think this form is the wrong one for crime stories. No that can’t be right – Sherlock Holmes’ is the archetype of crime fiction, and work brilliantly as short stories – although perhaps they’re not quite as short as these? Whatever, it doesn’t work so well for these crime stories, even though the detective does get his man (if not his woman). Perhaps Rankin relies more on plot than Conan-Doyle?


And ‘Beggars’ are crime stories – but I reckon they do work much more successfully, because nobody has to solve them. Rankin gets to explore his ideas and characters without needing to risk being twee.


So, sure, if you want things wrapped up and morality to be satisfied, go with Rebus in ‘Hanging’. But if you wince too much at overly speedy deductions, you might, like me, find the dastardly ‘Beggars’ more satisfying.


Oh, another little aside: it was novel watching the way that technology changed even over the decade of these stories. In the 1990s mobile phones and the net were really coming into their own, and this is highlighted as Rankin’s stories tend to mention – or even hinge on – such things. In the opening story of ‘Hanging’, ‘Playback’, for example, Rebus was impressed that a guy could check his home answering machine from his car phone, but was, “..more impressed than ever,” that the machine logged the time of the call.  


(Nice shortcut for me that a review of one is also a review of the other – two birds…).


February 2014