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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Mortal Causes

Ian Rankin

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To purchase Mortal Causes

Title: Mortal Causes
Author: Ian Rankin
Genre: Novel
Written: 1994
Length: 278 pages
Availability: Mortal Causes - US
Mortal Causes - UK
Mortal Causes - Canada
Causes mortelles - France
Blutschuld - Deutschland
  • Mortal Causes is the sixth John Rebus novel

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Our Assessment:

B : too busy and messy, but holds one's interest

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 21/1/1996 Marilyn Stasio
TLS . 23/9/1994 John Paul Flintoff

  From the Reviews:
  • "The author pushes the procedural form well past conventional genre limits when he sends his detective first to Belfast for a sobering lesson in the politics of bigotry and then to an Edinburgh slum for some local fieldwork." - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

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:

       Mortal Causes begins with a description of a particularly brutal murder (the shots through both ankles, both elbows, and both knees were not what killed him), and one of the later killings is also extremely unpleasant (which should make you think about firehoses in a completely new way). Yes, DI John Rebus is dealing with some really nasty bad guys here. The circumstances of the first death suggest there are big things at stake, and when DCI Kilpatrick of the SCS (Scottish Crime Squad) and DI Abernathy from Special Branch all the way in London get involved it's clear the authorities are very concerned.
       Rebus has his own way of going about conducting an investigation, but he also has to go where he is pushed and nudged. The crime suggests an IRA connexion, and points towards some Scottish nationalist groups. Rebus even gets to travel to Belfast, and sees first hand -- as he had decades earlier, in his SAS days -- what sectarian violence can lead to.
       A second story-line -- soon enough quite clearly intertwined with the first -- has Rebus take an interest in a youth club at Pilmuir's Garibaldi Estate -- called the Gar-B -- where things look to have gotten completely out of hand (not least because of sectarian tension). But then Gar-B -- frequently visited in the book -- generally resembles Belfast.
       Finally, old Rebus nemesis 'Big Ger' Cafferty comes into the picture as well: the first victim turns out to have been his son (which practically nobody knew) and he's out for revenge -- i.e. after the same guys as Rebus is. Cafferty is in jail when this all begins, but eventually decides a more hands-on approach is required -- meddling Rebus decidedly does not appreciate.
       Rebus doesn't have an easy time of it. When one of the men on the case, Inspector Ken Smylie, takes it personally (as well he should) that further complicates matters. And Rebus' flirtation with a lawyer (despite his living with Patience) are soon the cause for additional aggravation. Inevitably he admits: "Always it came to this, he tried to do things by the book and ended up cooking them instead."
       The crimes are fairly messy and convoluted, the resolution clever enough if remorselessly dark. The conclusion, as so often in Rankin's novels, ends with life and death confrontations (Rebus managing to find himself in mortal peril not once, but twice) and catastrophe just averted -- all a bit over the top. Still, it's a decent ride for most of the way, the contrast of bleak housing estate world and Edinburgh Festival unreality (that's right, all this happens during Festival season) nicely done, and Rebus' juggling acts -- women, criminals, colleagues, alcohol -- as entertaining as usual. The sectarian differences and the Scottish nationalism are a bit too simply treated, but they suffice for the purposes of the novel.
       Rankin is ambitious here, but isn't willing to go into the necessary depth: he doesn't flesh out the issues as he begins to do in the later volumes in this series. The police procedural aspect still dominates, the sensational crimes more important than all the motives behind them (though a shift in Rankin's approach is palpable, if not truly evident). A decent entertainment, but not a real success.

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Mortal Causes: 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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