Fleshmarket Alley Paperback – Nov 15 2010
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Top Customer Reviews
Carrying on his Detective Rebus series, Rankin begins his story with a man found stabbed in a dodgy area of Edinburgh. The victim, a refugee with several stab wounds, is thought by the police to be the result of a racially-motivated crime. And so tells the murder-solving story that weaves several different crimes that all take place over a week.
Rankin is a great storyteller and bravely takes on the touchy subject of race relations. He exposes the harsh realities faced by refugees and asylum-seekers, and depicts their attempts to start new lives in a better country only to find themselves poor, desolate, and the subject of hate crimes.
Rankin’s readers know that sometimes his stories wrap everything up together all too nicely, but that’s easy to get over considering you’ve devoured page after page because he’s kept you entertained. The great thing about Rankin’s novels is they don’t subject the reader to procedural dribble; rather he makes his novels interesting, funny, and with a healthy dose of police work that makes you hang on for more.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
John Rebus is close to being put out to pasture. Since his bosses have no use for him, he finds himself in Knoxland, a run-down, fetid, and crime-ridden housing development in Edinburgh. Knoxland has become a dumping ground for desperate refugees seeking asylum in Scotland; it is now a crime scene where an unidentified man was brutally stabbed to death. Meanwhile, a desperate couple has enlisted Siobhan to find their eighteen-year-old daughter, Ishbel, who packed a bag a week earlier and disappeared without a word.
Rebus is an inspector of the old school. He has a wide range of contacts, both legitimate and shady, whom he calls upon for inside information. It is amazing that Rebus can take a breath or stand up, since he seems to smoke and drink constantly. However, he is as sharp as ever, and what he lacks in youth, he makes up for in instinct, experience, and dogged persistence.
"Fleshmarket Alley" is a frank and disturbing look at the seamier side of Scotland. Rankin's characters range from racists who want all immigrants to go back "where they came from" to greedy opportunists who enrich themselves at the refugees' expense. As Rebus and Clarke work on their cases, they interview potential eyewitnesses as well as wealthy flesh peddlers and street thugs. However, the two detectives both find that their investigations are too complex to yield quick and simple solutions.
Rankin's dialogue in this novel is hard-edged and laced with dark humor; his plotting is intricate and involving. He skillfully and compassionately explores the problems of immigrants who seek refuge in a country where they are unwanted. As always, Rankin writes credibly about the politics, tedium, and often frustrating futility of police work. Rebus makes for a terrific anti-hero, and Siobhan Clarke is an excellent foil for him. "Fleshmarket Alley" is uncompromising and sometimes unpleasant to read, but it paints a realistic picture of the criminal activity that accompanies the troubling social problems plaguing Scotland today.
And I needed a new mystery writer! Agatha hasn't written anything for quite some time (could be because she's dead), P.D. James hasn't had anything new (is she still writing?), and Elizabeth George is still working but I just couldn't wait any longer for her next book.
So it was with a great deal of pleasure that I was given an advanced reading copy of Fleshmarket Alley to review.
Why do I find British mystery writers so much better than their American counterparts? I know that a lot of people will take umbrage with this comment, but I always enjoy the British authors' writing styles compared to those in the States (if you agree with this sentiment, I have no doubt you'll enjoy this novel).
I found the story's complexity, depth, and length (a comfortable 420 pages) a very satisfying read. I don't know much about detective Rebus, but this book makes me want to read all of Mr. Rankin's earlier novels based on this character (starting with Knots and Crosses). This is my favorite type of murder mystery; it's not important who did the dastardly deed, it's the road to discovery as to why the murder(s) took place that make it a rich reading experience.
I also found this novel especially intriguing because of the political and sociological atmosphere (in Scotland) that surrounds the action and investigation-which gives you a lot to ponder, besides just the murders. I learned a great deal about the Scottish immigration and refugee problem, which made me more aware of issues outside of my own little world; it left me thinking about the book long after I'd finished reading. Isn't that what reading is all about?
I hope his other books are as satisfying as this one-I plan to read more about detective Rebus. My only complaint is that I wish they'd included a glossary of British/Scottish slang terms. I was a little lost when phrases like "no cheap plonk" and others suddenly appeared. I was able to figure it out in context, but for the average American reader, I'm sure a glossary would be much appreciated. Even so, it added to the flavor of this author's British roots and his style of writing.
Getting back to my earlier comment about British mystery writers over American mystery writers, the British authors don't seem to dumb-down their writing to appeal to the masses, while their American counterparts (you know . . . those "A", "B", "C", etc. murder mysteries) tend to be formulaic and repetitious after the third or fourth (or tenth!) book.
If you want a satisfying read and you've run out of British authors (like I have), try discovering Ian Rankin. You won't be disappointed.
The murder that starts this book is almost incidental to the journey of discover that it causes for Rebus and his compatriots. There is a subordinate story that may or may not hook into the primary murder involving the search for a missing girl. It is a heartbreaking development following the suicide of her sister, who was raped and never mentally recovered from the ordeal. The rapist is now out of prison and we don't know what to make of this information. Did he nab her as well? When he turns up dead, she moves from potential hostage to potential murderer...but nobody can find her.
This is more quickly paced than most Rebus books and with denser plotting. You don't need to know Scotland to read this effectively, but it is a good idea to keep track of the story locations in your mind. It might tend to get a little confusing, and "place" means everything to the effectiveness of this story. As if that weren't enough, there is also a very unusual potential romance for Rebus in this book that will have you scratching your head right along with him!
Faithful readers of the series will have noticed a gradual but definite change in John Rebus' personality (a necessity in the success of a long-running series). When we first met him in Knots and Crosses he was a tormented man who was trying to get over a failed marriage, invariably drinking himself to sleep, that is, when he could sleep at all, and seriously contemplating suicide. The overall mood was dark and depressing and worthy of the categorisation as Tartan Noir.
A very notable change in Rebus came around 2 books ago in Resurrection Men and was continued in the Edgar Award winning A Question of Blood. He has become more open with his investigations, he has actually begun to socialise more often and is less inclined to drink himself into a stupor. As a matter of fact, at one point in Fleshmarket Alley he plays a practical joke on one of the junior police officers in the office, something that he would simply not have been capable of earlier in the series.
One thing that has never changed has been Rebus' suspicion towards the people in power, be they his immediate superiors or politicians. His attitude is summed up in Fleshmarket Alley as he explains to another police officer:
"I've got this theory, we spend most of our time chasing something called 'the underworld', but it's the overworld we should really be keeping an eye on."
To open Fleshmarket Alley we are greeted with a development that seems about par for the course in the life of John Rebus. He and DS Siobhan Clarke have been unceremoniously relocated from their familiar offices at St Leonards CID and reassigned to the nearby station at Gayfield Square. In even more typical fashion, Rebus is left without a desk from which to work.
Carrying on regardless out of his new Gayfield Square digs he is loaned out to yet another station at West End to assist on the scene of a stabbing murder of a possible illegal immigrant in an apartment in Knoxland. Knoxland is a low-rent, low-class housing development that predominantly accommodates immigrants and the occupants regularly bear the brunt of racist attacks and taunts. The immediate suspicion is the attack was fuelled by racial hatred. Little does Rebus know that this case is about to open his eyes to the plight of the illegal immigrants in Scotland, particularly the women and children who are locked up in detention centres while awaiting a decision on whether they will be allowed to stay.
Meanwhile Siobhan is asked by the parents of a girl who has disappeared to help them find her. Siobhan and the family have a history together after she worked on the rape case that subsequently resulted in the suicide of their oldest daughter. The difficulty for Siobhan lies in the fact that it's not an official missing persons case, so she has to be circumspect in her efforts, an attribute that comes straight out of the John Rebus handbook. A further sticking point in this tricky little subplot is the recent release of the man who raped the older daughter, a particularly nasty man who is not the least bit repentant for his crime. Just how Siobhan handles the situation marks her growing aptitude and highlights some of the skills she has picked up from Rebus.
A third subplot involves both Rebus and Clarke as they are called out together to a pub undergoing renovations in Fleshmaket Alley. Discovered under the cellar of the pub are two skeletons raising all sorts of speculation over the pub's history. This seemingly unrelated case is going to prove to be important to the other cases they are working on - you can count on it.
The Inspector Rebus series has become a consistently high-quality British police procedural with a smoothly ordered story that is developing the lives of the two main characters. Combined with the strong characterizations are interesting, thought-provoking crimes that often challenges Rebus' moral beliefs. Certainly this is the case in Fleshmarket Alley.
Far from the dark atmosphere of the earlier Rebus books, this has a feeling of wry amusement about it, particularly notable is the almost legendary status Rebus has attained among his new colleagues at Gayfield Square and the liberties he takes with it. However at times, the mood sobers significantly as Rebus faces the fact that there are problems that he can't solve, such as the detention of refugees in prison-like conditions. Even more difficult for him to face is the realization that, as a policeman, he is seen as the enemy by the people with whom he empathizes so strongly.
It is becoming more and more apparent that DS Siobhan Clarke is going to play much larger roles in future books, proving herself to be a perfect foil for Rebus' gruff, stand-offish exterior. That being said, she is beginning to take on a few Rebus-like qualities, a fact she comments on to herself with more than a little satisfaction. To this point their relationship has been kept on a professional level (with one exception that continues to confuse them), one feels that it's only a matter of time before a more personal side of their relationship will be explored.
Ian Rankin has followed up his excellent, award winning A Question of Blood with another outstanding novel, one that has, I think, raised the bar even higher. Fleshmarket Alley is a book that followers of the series will love, but I think it will also appeal to those who have never read any of the earlier books too.
For some reason, the title of this book has been changed for the US market from Fleshmarket Close. The purpose? Who knows, but there you are just in case you find the "other" title.