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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Black and Blue

Ian Rankin

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To purchase Black and Blue

Title: Black and Blue
Author: Ian Rankin
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997
Length: 395 pages
Availability: Black and Blue - US
Black and Blue - UK
Black and Blue - Canada
  • Black and Blue is the eighth John Rebus novel

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Our Assessment:

B+ : well-paced, solid, among the best in the series

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 14/12/1997 Marilyn Stasio
San Francisco Chronicle . 14/12/1997 Peter Handel
TLS B- 28/2/1997 Liam McIlvanney

  From the Reviews:
  • "Rankin has a point to make about the corrosive effects of human wickedness that, if left unchecked, seeps into the bloodstream and poisons the national body -- a point well made in his blunt and bruising style." - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The plot is complex without ever becoming convoluted, and the way Rankin orchestrates three seemingly disparate cases -- from past and present -- into a coherent and plausible whole is the work of a master, as is the bang-up and compelling denouement." - Peter Handel, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "(F)or all its bulk, Black and Blue seems less substantial than some of the earlier Rebus novels. Stylistically, too, Rankin seems less assured than usual. The third-person narrative proceeds in chatty, almost slapdash prose (.....) If it lacks the brio and ambition of the other Rebus novels, Black and Blue still exhibits Ian Rankin's trademark strengths: detailed knowledge of police procedure: shrewd co-ordination of plot lines; deft and convincing characterization." - Liam McIlvanney, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Black and Blue is one of the first more expansive Inspector Rebus novels, at some 400 pages. The greater length and space pays off: it's also one of Rankin's most successful novels.
       Unlike the earlier Rebus novels, Black and Blue mixes fact and fiction much more closely: one of the central characters -- and unsolved cases being investigated by the police -- is Bible John, a serial killer from decades ago. (Matters were apparently complicated for Rankin when the Bible John murders again hit the headlines in 1996, as new evidence surfaced.)
       Black and Blue finds Rebus in purgatory: after once again upsetting some "people who mattered" he's sent to do time at Craigmillar station, "Edinburgh's hardest posting." Not that he winds up spending too much time there, as he -- as usual -- takes matters into his own hands and goes sniffing all about. Also as usual, several cases keep him busy -- and in hot water. For one, there's an old one that has come back to haunt him, one that obsessed an old colleague who has now committed suicide, leaving Rebus as the one that might get blamed for things not having been done completely correctly. The man convicted of the crime also killed himself, and the media have taken quite an interest in the case. So have the police, with Rebus the one being investigated; to keep an eye on him they also give him a twenty-four hour minder, Jack Morton -- meaning that, for once, Rebus can't act completely independently, Jack having to tag along and keep an eye on him.
       There's also murder, the first one gorily described at the beginning (Rankin enjoys coming up with some pretty far-out acts of violence, and he certainly does well with this one). The victim worked on an oil rig, and Rebus follows-up on the connexion to the the oil business, and Aberdeen, uncovering all sorts of nastiness and fun. The tour of Scotland's oil industry, and Rebus' foray into Aberdeen, are among Rankin's most successful detours, a nice touch of a very different local colour, adding to the big picture of Scotland Rankin has been creating in this series of books.
       Meanwhile, there's also the Johnny Bible case -- a next-generation Bible John whose m.o. is similar enough to the original's to have earned him that nickname. As it turns out, Bible John -- never captured and presumed (by some) dead -- isn't flattered by the homage, and decides to take on (or rather: take out) the Upstart. Coincidence (ah, yes, Rankin can't quite do with coincidence) has Rebus and Bible John cross paths, making for a more complicated cat and mouse game.
       More adeptly than usual, Rankin weaves these different threads together. Rebus' own cat and mouse game with those investigating him, his buddy-act with Jack (who has become a tee-totaler -- which stunningly manages to rub off on Rebus), the usual police detail (corruption, Gill Templer's attempts to land her first big case, Brian Holmes' struggle between his love for the job and wanting to save his marriage): it all moves along nicely. Amazingly, Rankin even manages not to close the book with Rebus in a desperate fight for his life against the bad guy(s).
       The pacing and movement in Black and Blue is particularly good, and even when Rankin appears to meander off course (onto the oil rigs, for example), the writing and action is entirely gripping. There are still too many places where Rankin opts for the lazy, weak description -- on take-off in a small plane: "Rebus thought he could feel fillings popping loose" --, but mostly the tone and description are more than adequate. He remains most adept at dialogue, but he shows a flair for some nice asides throughout too:

There were more guards patrolling the concourse -- private security, uniformed, wearing shiny caps which meant nothing. They'd probably had a one-day crash course in menacing pleasantly.
       It is an ambitious mix of storylines, but Rankin pulls it off well. Loose threads -- especially some of the characters -- remain, but it's an enjoyable ride, and Black and Blue is easily among the best volumes in the series.

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Black and Blue: Reviews: Ian Rankin: Other books by Ian Rankin under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Ian Rankin was born in 1960.

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© 2004-2009 the complete review

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