Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tooth and Nail

I was maybe half-way through Ian Rankin's Tooth and Nail (St. Martin's Minotaur 1992), the third in the Inspector Rebus series, when I started to wonder why I had stayed with Rebus into the third book.  He's not particularly appealing, or smart, or even interesting as far as I can tell.  And in this story Rebus doesn't contribute a whole heck of a lot to the plot development, other than a few startling insights and hunches, which, I get it, are sometimes the stuff of brilliant deduction.  But here they just feel like an effort to get to the next stage of the investigation. 

Rebus has been seconded to London to help with an investigation into a grisly series of murders by a perp who seems to operate according to no particular pattern other than to really do nasty things to his victims, and leave a characteristic bite mark on their bellies.  Since he's in London, the perpetually depressed and work-obsessed Rebus takes the opportunity to visit with his former wife and their daughter, and that goes about as well as one might expect, which is to say kind of dismally.  He has a massive inferiority complex about being from the sticks (Edinburgh, hardly, but according to Rebus everyone looks down on Jocks).  He meets a predictably gorgeous, predictably mysterious woman with whom he predictably sleeps early on.  She is predictably involved in the resolution of the story.  Rebus and his English counterpart, George Flight, have predictable conflicts, and predictable resolutions.

Our hero presents himself - to be fair, this is his own assessment - as old (he's what, in his forties?  hardly!) and overweight.  Despite references to books and religion "Where was the religion for man who believed in God but not in God's religion?" 241, while trying to get a taxi, for chrissake), he comes across not particularly smart - an unnecessary foray into the British Museum where he learns about the Rosetta Stone seems a heavy-handed way to make a point about the attention to detail required in good police work.  And he's a stubborn cuss, perpetually on the brink of losing his job over his inability to follow orders.  Of course, like all coppers, he drinks too much, sleeps too little, and operates on the brink of exhaustion.  But there is no forgiving this:
"Rebus put down the telephone and felt an immense weariness take control of him, weighting his legs and arms and head.  He took several deep breaths and rose to his feet, then walked to the sink and splashed water on his fce, rubbing a wet hand around his neck and throat.  He looked up, hardly recognizing himself in the wall-mounted mirror, signed and spread his hands either side of his face, the way he'd seen Roy Scheider do once in a film.
'It's showtime.'" (135)
I've seen All That Jazz, and John Rebus, you are no Bob Fosse.  I don't mind a flawed hero, but please make it interesting!

I will say that there are some terrific red herrings in this story.  These involve some situations and characters that are introduced just subtly enough to inject a frisson of uncertainty into the proceedings.  So, the climax is not predictable, but it is ludicrous.  One wonders if the author couldn't decide quite who the killer should be, and drew a name out of a hat as he was writing the last couple of chapters.

Time to give Rebus a rest for a bit.

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