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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Question of Blood

Ian Rankin

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To purchase A Question of Blood

Title: A Question of Blood
Author: Ian Rankin
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003
Length: 406 pages
Availability: A Question of Blood - US
A Question of Blood - UK
A Question of Blood - Canada
Die Kinder des Todes - Deutschland
  • A Question of Blood is the fourteenth John Rebus novel

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nicely paced, decent story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph . 8/9/2004 Antonia Fraser
Entertainment Weekly C 13/2/2004 Karyn L. Barr
The Guardian . 30/8/2003 Mark Lawson
The Independent . 9/8/2003 Andrew Taylor
New Statesman A 6/10/2003 Nicola Upson
The NY Times . 9/2/2004 Janet Maslin
The NY Times Book Rev. . 22/2/2004 Charles Taylor
People A 22/3/2004 Arion Berger
The Spectator . 6/9/2003 Allan Massie
Sunday Telegraph F 14/9/2003 Lloyd Evans
TLS . 5/9/2003 Patricia Craig
The Washington Post . 16/2/2004 Patrick Anderson
Die Zeit . 29/7/2004 Tobias Gohlis

  Review Consensus:

  Some strong dissenters, but most very impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "There is a mystery, in fact more than one, and readers who fancy themselves at solving the mysteries of their favourite writers before the last page would do well to keep an eye on the title of the book . . . To say more than that would be unsporting." - Antonia Fraser, Daily Telegraph

  • "(T)his lifeless whodunit with its needlessly jumpy narrative and generically predictable story line could use a transfusion." - Karyn L. Barr, Entertainment Weekly

  • "The primary challenge of any long detective series is to turn new aspects of the character towards the light with each novel. A Question of Blood achieves this because Rebus, never previously very likable, begins the book under suspicion of being a murderer himself. (...) This detail works as both a mystery and a metaphor -- Rebus is a dangerous pair of hands -- but also adds to the physical reality of the character." - Mark Lawson, The Guardian

  • "The novel offers a jumbo-size helping of plot. (...) A Question of Blood shows Rankin's gift for narrative. He writes with a natural rhythm which exerts an almost hypnotic effect (...) Some degree of enchantment is necessary because the plot depends on remarkable coincidences. But the novel undoubtedly radiates an alluring aura of authenticity" - Andrew Taylor, The Independent

  • "(A)fter a comparatively weary last outing, he has returned to form with a novel of startling depth. (...) While the narrative inevitably echoes the massacres of Lockerbie and Dunblane, this is much more than a Scottish tragedy. It is very much a novel of grown men on the edge -- and Rebus is no exception." - Nicola Upson, New Statesman

  • "A Question of Blood -- which takes its title, in part, from Rebus's kinship to one of the teenage victims -- is by no means the best example of Mr. Rankin's plotting skills. This story means to be far ranging, but it winds up all over the map; there are enough strands of mystery for a diffuse investigation followed by a hasty tying-up of loose ends at denouement time." - Janet Maslin, The New York Times

  • "But one of the real measures of how Rankin differs from the other practitioners of police procedural is that in A Question of Blood he doesn't pretend to answer the questions of what prompts random violence. It's to Rankin's credit that we are left with a bigger mystery at the end of the book than at the beginning." - Charles Taylor, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Rankin's masterful new police procedural. (...) The characters are brought into relief slowly and with a full complement of human values and contradictions." - Arion Berger, People

  • "After an interminable series of elaborations, the plot eventually works itself to death. One final illogicality remains. (...) Why ? Well, it's page 338 and time for Ian Rankin to start dreaming up a fresh ordeal for his lustreless plodder. Good luck to them both. Tens of thousands will be joining them eagerly. Not me. I'd sooner twiddle my thumbs." - Lloyd Evans, Sunday Telegraph

  • "A Question of Blood, the fourteenth book-length appearance of Rebus, has all the hallmarks of blight and insouciance, all the urban disarray, that has come to be associated with the genre. (...) The current plot (disfigured only by a coincidence too many) takes a cue from a couple of major news items" - Patricia Craig, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Between Rebus's investigation of the school shootings and the department's investigation of Rebus, Rankin has an abundance of plot to spin, and he does so with his usual skill. But it is not plot alone that has made Rankin one of England's most popular crime novelists. (...) Rankin does not write easy books. To follow this novel's plot we must keep straight 15 or 20 characters who are significant pieces of the puzzle; fortunately all are nicely sketched. (...) A Question of Blood is the most impressive of the Rebus novels I've read -- it can certainly bear comparison with the best of today's American crime writing -- and, for those who have not yet met the inspector, it's a good place to start." - Patrick Anderson, The Washington Post

  • "Noch sturer, noch deutlicher ein Marlowe mit Beamtenstatus, so tritt Rebus in Die Kinder des Todes an -- als Märtyrer eines Gerechtigkeitsbewusstseins, das nur noch privat sein kann, weil es öffentlich einzig als Heuchelei möglich ist. (...) Wer Rankin liest, sieht klarer -- und schwarz." - Tobias Gohlis, Die Zeit

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:

       A Question of Blood features a handicapped Detective Inspector John Rebus: he has severely burned his hands, limiting what he can do by himself. He's not incapacitated -- and the burns heal fairly quickly -- but he does have to rely on DS Siobhan Clarke more than usual over the seven-day span covered in the novel. This also puts her more front and centre in the book, making it less wholly Rebus-focussed than many of the titles in this series -- and that's not a bad thing.
       Clarke has had some trouble recently, stalked by a thug named Fairstone. She thought she could handle it herself, but couldn't keep Rebus -- famous for his methods -- from lending a helping hand of sorts. Problem is, Fairstone has turned up dead, burned under suspicious circumstances in a fire. And right after that Rebus turns up with the burns on his hands (and not much of an explanation for them) .....
       Rebus' involvement in Fairstone's death looks increasingly likely as the evidence mounts up. No one really wants to believe it, but he doesn't help himself by not revealing everything he knows up front. Not very convincing when a copper is reduced to excuses such as:

     "I knew it would look bad," Rebus explained to Templer. "That's why I didn't say anything."
       Hmmm .....
       The central case in A Question of Blood is a bit out of Rebus' jurisdiction: a shooting at a school. Three students were shot, two fatally, and the gunman then turned his weapon on himself. It's a high-profile case: the survivor is the son of an obnoxious Scottish MSP (who had a run in with the law himself fairly recently), and the gunman, Lee Herdman, has an army and SAS background. It's the latter fact that leads the lead inspector on the case, Bobby Hogan, to ask for Rebus' help (as Rebus used to be army himself) -- and Rebus, in turn, needs someone to help with the driving and the like (he can't even open a car door at first) -- enter DS Clarke.
       Some nosy army types also show up at the scene, and Rebus finds that very suspicious. Additional complications include the fact that he's related to one of the victims, the fact that Herdman knew some of the kids from the school, including a goth-girl who has a live webcam set up in her room, allowing all and sundry to watch everything she does in there, and the presence of obnoxious journalist Steve Holly. The pall of suspicion around Rebus also limits what he can do. Then there's the death of an old colleague, and Clarke continues to receive messages in the mail that appear to come from the supposedly dead Fairstone .....
       A Question of Blood rambles nicely along. The mystery isn't too far-fetched or absurd, and folds and unfolds well. Better still is the leisurely pace, as Rebus and Clarke try to make there way through the mounting evidence on the variety of cases (Fairstone, Herdman, etc.). Rebus is a bit more forthcoming than usual about his old army days, and Clarke wonders about where her life is going (and whether her association with Rebus does more to help or hinder her career chances). The family-connexion with one of the victims also shows a bit more of Rebus' past -- though that's unfortunately abruptly cut off. But otherwise the novel is particularly good in its focus on Rebus and Clarke.
       The resolutions are quite good and entirely satisfying. Rankin can't help but throw in one life-threatening final encounter, as he appears to invariably do: it's telegraphed miles ahead (as usual), and the reader is surely tempted to warn: 'Don't go there !' (to no avail). As usual, also, the final showdown is a disappointment (and, as also happens too frequently in these scenes, the person involved winds up unconscious in the final life-or-death situation), but at least Rankin offers a few new twists to go with it. But other than that, it's a good ending -- particularly the cynical final twist, suggesting how all this will ultimately play out.
       A Question of Blood isn't as crime-focussed as some of the other Rebus novels, but it has enough of everything to satisfy. One of the better volumes in the series.

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A Question of Blood: 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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