Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin (John Rebus, #1) - Book Review

4/5 Stars

God have mercy on them.

In Edinburgh of all places, in his own dear city.

A maniac was on the loose...

Edition: Paperback
Pages: 226
Chapters: 27 (Plus a prologue and an epilogue.)
Publisher: Orion

Book Links: Goodreads
                      Author's Website


Edinburgh, Scotland, 1985.

A savage serial killer on the loose and a protagonist whose past is like a living demon. 

Yep, you guessed it, we have the plot of a crime thriller that begs to be read. Knots & Crosses has its flaws and shakes, but it is one hell of an experience. It's simple, predictable even, but its execution is extraordinary. Despite having a fair idea of where events were going, Rankin still manages to pull some surprising twists that land hard and fast. Like the title suggests, a dark and brutal game awaits your participation.

Rebus, our protagonist, shines, and while other characters tend to shrink underneath his shadow, they're decent supporters. The writing is solid and professional, showcasing a beginner's potential and potency.

If this is how the series starts, I can't wait to see it mature and find its feet.


And in Edinburgh, of all places. I mean, you never think of that sort of thing happening in Edinburgh, do you...?

That sort of thing is the brutal abduction and murder of two young girls. And now a third is missing, presumably gone to the same sad end. Detective Sergeant John Rebus, smoking and drinking too much, his own young daughter spirited away south by his disenchanted wife, is one of many policemen hunting the killer. And then the messages begin to arrive: knotted string and matchstick crosses - taunting Rebus with pieces of a puzzle only he can solve.

Plot - 4/5 Stars

Knots & Crosses begins with a standard crime plot: Young girls are being abducted and murdered, and the police haven't the foggiest as to the who or why. Standard, yeah, but nonetheless intriguing. A game is going on between the killer and Rebus, one that tingles with tension. Unfortunately, a few elements of said game are spoiled by the blurb (namely the fact that Rebus is receiving letters and clues from the killer). During the story's run, a lot of time is put into the characters' inability to realise that the letters are from the person they're after, and this can be infuriating.

The plot's progression during the first half also irks me a little. Rankin admits in my edition's introduction that quite a bit of police work was a mystery to him, and it shows by the lengthy feel of the case, despite the novel only being 226 pages long. Most of this time, however, is spent on more character-orientated developments, which are awesome, but a better balance would've been nice.

The real action starts about halfway through, and that action is some emotionally charged stuff. Rankin coalesces all his subtle hints, drawing on the novel's dark tone and themes of identity and sanity to deliver a phenomenal punch. The personal and the professional clash with cataclysmic creativity. There are many twists you can guess, but Rankin's big picture has some surprises yet.

Pace - 4/5 Stars

Consistent but slow in the early stages, but that I expected from the beginning of a series. Once the story and main character find their feet and synchronicity, the flow forces you to turn page after page with ravenous hunger.

Characters - 4/5 Stars

Overall, Knots & Crosses has a solid cast. Relationships can be convoluted at points, but the author does a stellar job of forging simple and realistic dynamics. Supporting characters aren't quite up to the challenge of standing by Rebus's side, though, with the predominant focus being on our main viewpoint's development. 

Rebus himself is an absolute joy to read. Initially he's a hard man to get a grasp on, but in time it becomes clear as to why. The author wants you to question his sanity as much as he does; to scrutinise his actions; to judge whether or not Rebus deserves forgiveness for sins we have to wait to see. I will say that the nudges towards Rebus being the serial killer are wasted. Mainly because: 1. There's an entire series dedicated to him, and I highly doubt a murderer would get that; and 2. The introduction in my edition spoils the fact that Rebus is, of course, not the big bad.

The novel's themes are embodied by Rebus, however, and the sense of isolation, guilt, and redemption are wonderful aspects of the story. With a past that's black and haunted, Rebus as a character resembles many a crime fiction protagonist. At least on paper. In reality, Rankin's ability to execute his imagination enhances the standard traits, sending Rebus skyrocketing upwards.

Writing - 4/5 Stars

You can tell this is a writer's earlier work, but Rankin proves to be a pro. The potential is palpable and undeniably achieved, especially considering the amount of books and acclaim this series has. Smooth sentence structures and fun literary devices ensure a thoughtful and fast read.

It's amazing what the author can reveal without actually telling the reader straight up.

Overall - 4/5 Stars

A brilliant beginning to a crime series I'm happy and excited to continue. 

I need more Rebus; I need his vulnerable strength and his potential progressions.

I need, need, need, need!

Next Instalment: Hide & Seek

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