Heads Nor Tails

Black and Blue by Ian Rankin ★★½

In this, the 8th book in the Inspector Rebus series, we find our cantankerous inspector trying to solve several seemingly unrelated cases. There’s a man who’s been found impaled on a fence, tied to a chair with a plastic bag over his head which some are wanting to call a suicide, though Rebus doesn’t agree with that version of events. There’s a serial killer who’s offed three women so far, that the media has named Johnny Bible, since it appears he is mimicking the methods of a serial killer who was active decades earlier, then known as Bible John. There’s a snitch who turns up dead, and based on a phone number Rebus discovers at the man’s house and the finding that the plastic bag man was an oil worker on the ocean rigs near Aberdeen he decides to visit that town, where he is convinced a thug, his girlfriend and his son are selling drugs to the bored oil workers when they come off their two-week shifts. While he’s at it, Rebus accuses several policemen of being on the take and is badly beaten up a couple of times for putting his nose into affairs some people think don’t concern him. He is also put under arrest and questioned, then shadowed 24/7 by a former colleague, since he is suspected of being Johnny Bible, even though eye witnesses maintain that Johnny Bible is much younger than he is. The narration also alternates between Rebus’ and Bible John’s activities as the latter attempts to find his copycat. In the midst of all this, our hard-drinking inspector decides to go on the wagon. And how could I forget? In the mix, there are also environmental groups putting pressure on the oil companies to prevent them from abandoning their rigs in the ocean.

Confused? So was I. I’ve read a few Rebus books and couldn’t make heads nor tails out of this one. It started out well enough, and I was eager to continue exploring this 500 page crime fiction novel which has won numerous awards and honours, but I got lost amidst the confusion of all the interwoven storylines that didn’t seem to connect in a plausible way (or maybe they did when I stopped paying attention). Frustrating. But there’s still plenty of intrigue and something irresistible about this unpleasant, grumpy detective that keeps me from declaring this one a total bomb.



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