Sunday, June 5, 2011

Knots and Crosses

Ian Rankin didn't set out to write mystery novels.  How he could have thought that he would not have been listed as a 'mystery novelist' when his first book focused on a police detective hunting a serial killer is even more of a mystery than the plot of Knots and Crosses, but it doesn't detract from this compelling psychological novel.  

We first see John Rebus at his father's grave, and that sets the tone for Knots and Crosses.  Rebus is chronically depressed and psychologically scarred by his military service.  He's recently divorced, on uncertain terms with his brother (a stage hypnotist), not well liked by his colleagues, and he lives in a very grey version of Edinburgh.  There's a serial killer stalking pre-teen girls, and Rankin alternates between the investigation in which Rebus is involved and scenes featuring his 12-year-old daughter, Samantha.  

Knots and Crosses is a well-written, tightly plotted mystery, and I didn't guess the killer until a few pages before the end.  What struck me, though, was how different the world was in 1987.  There are no cell phones, few computers, no internet...Samantha looks for a library book in a card catalog and the investigation involves shuffling paper instead of scrolling through screens.  There's even a brief passage discussing whether computers will ever replace legwork.  1987 is an almost foreign world, but I lived there - as a college student and a legal adult.  How odd will the world depicted in books published today feel in 2025?

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