Sunday, September 12, 2010

Strip Jack by Ian Rankin (Minotaur Books 1992)

'Are you an Inspector of Hospitals?' he asked.

'No, sir, I'm a police inspector.'

'Oh.' His face dulled a little. 'I thought maybe you'd come to . . . they don't treat us well here, you know.' He paused. 'There, because I've told you that I'll probably be disciplined, maybe even put into solitary. Everything, any dissension, gets reported back. But I've got to keep telling people, or nothing will be done. I have some influential friends, Inspector.' Rebus thought this was for the nurse's ears more than his own. 'Friends in high places . . .'

Well, Dr Forster knew that now, thanks to Rebus.

' . . . friends I can trust. People need to be told, you see. They censor our mail. They decide what we can read. They won't even let me read Das Kapital. And they give us drugs. The mentally ill, you know, by whom I mean those who have been judged to be mentally ill, we have less rights than the most hardened mass murderer . . . hardened but sane mass murderer. Is that fair? Is that . . . humane?'


mikeovswinton said...

So you do pay attention. Its a good read, isn't it. How do you rate it in the context of his entire ouevre?

Darren said...

Yeah, thanks for the recommendation. ;-)

It was a re-read for me - I'm guessing I first read it about 12 or 13 years ago - and I enjoyed it the second time around.

The weird thing is that, up until me rereading it, I'd always insisted, to anyone who asked, that it was my least favourite Rebus novel, and yet reading it this second time around I kept asking myself, 'why the hell did I dislike this book so much first time round?'

I've scratched my head and the only conclusion I can reach is that when I first read it, I was on a Rebus binge.

I'd recently stumbled across Black and Blue in a Waterstones, loved it, and then decided to read all his other Rebus books one after another in quick succession. In retrospect, I don't always think it's a good idea to gorge yourself too quickly on one writer or character, however much you like them.

What possibly happened is that by the time I'd read Strip Jack, I was maybe feeling a wee bit too over exposed to Rankin and Rebus. I should maybe have spaced my reading out a bit more. It's a lesson learned, and I'm just glad I got round to reading Strip Jack again. I'd done it a disservice.

My only quibble with it second time around - and this may have contributed to my dislike of the book all those years ago - was the implausibility of Gregor Jack's supposed political career. Someone who is supposed to be so calculating and so ambitious in his political ambitions does not go down the lonely path of Independent politics. We're talking about a bloke who had his eyes was on the ultimate prize.

It's a bit of a leap of the imagination to think that even someone as personally ambitious as Jack could make that leap from being an independent mp to achieving real high office. That's what we're lead to believe motivates him as a character and his actions, and yet, for some reason, Rankin seems to have placed him in this career scenario which doesn't make sense. It just didn't sit right with me.

How does it compare with his other Rebus books? There are at least three or four novels in the series that definitely top it.

The aforementioned Black and Blue; Mortal Causes; Resurrection Men and Fleshmarket Alley are all better books, in my opinion, but as my brother in law said, 'It's the first Rebus novel where you think he's truly getting into his stride as a character.'

mikeovswinton said...

The 4 you mention go on my list.

You go to the heart of the issue with your comments on Gregor Jack as Independent MP. I wondered if it was a device that enabled Rankin to keep the number of people close to Jack down to a managable number and not to have to go into the culture of Scottish Labour or the SNP or whatever. In fact thinking about it, I wondered if it was a last minute switch and that Jack had been a film star or some such and that didn't quite work. But I thought it was a good, pacy read.

Just finished Cath Staincliffe's Bitter Blue. A different type of crime novel, but worth a spin. Now in the foothills of Reg Hill's The Woodcutter which is starting very promisingly.

Darren said...

I'll definitely look out for the Staincliffe books but I'm guessing I'd have to get them online. Best to start with the first in the series?

With regards to Strip Jack I'm guessing Rankin at the time of writing didn't have the background knowledge in the minutiae of the swamp of Scottish politics to write a novel which involved the machinations of the Labour or SNP party machines.

And you're probably right, by making him an independent MP you don't then have the extra four or five characters that Rankin would have been obliged to introduce into the storyline if Jack had been the bright young high flyer in the Labour Party caught up in a sex scandal and a murder.

Christ, a fictionalised version of Helen Liddell. It doesn't bear thinking about.