Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

buy us books !
Amazon wishlist

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Set in Darkness

Ian Rankin

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Set in Darkness

Title: Set in Darkness
Author: Ian Rankin
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000
Length: 414 pages
Availability: Set in Darkness - US
Set in Darkness - UK
Set in Darkness - Canada
Du fond des ténèbres - France
Der kalte Hauch der Nacht - Deutschland
  • Set in Darkness is the eleventh John Rebus novel

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B+ : solid, generally satisfying novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
London Rev. of Books . 27/4/2000 John Lanchester
New Statesman . 21/2/2000 Nicola Upson
The NY Times Book Rev. . 10/12/2000 Marilyn Stasio
The Observer . 12/3/2000 Peter Guttridge
TLS . 25/2/2000 Heather O'Donoghue

  From the Reviews:
  • "Set in Darkness is Rankin's best novel to date. In it, he effortlessly weaves together multi-layered storylines to reach a conclusion that manages to be both unexpected and inevitable. (...) Set in Darkness, however, develops an aspect of Rankin's writing that has been much less evident in its predecessors: a readiness to combine this bleakness with extraordinary compassion." - Nicola Upson, New Statesman

  • "In deepening the characterisation with each novel, Rankin has made Rebus into the most interesting crime protagonist around. In consequence, over the past three years, Rankin has taken his well-earned place among the top echelon of crime writers." - Peter Guttridge, The Observer

  • "Rankin's Edinburgh is here far more than just a vivid backdrop to the action; Set in Darkness is an ambitious novel about post-devolution Scotland, and Edinburgh, with its new parliament building, its new wave of aspiring politicians, and its new money, lies at the heart. (...) Rankin's plotting is clever, dense and subtle. Political and financial intrigue are delicately interwoven with the sad, mindless violence of the deprived." - Heather O'Donoghue, 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.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       Set in Darkness begins at Queensbury House, part of the complex of buildings that will soon house the new Scottish parliament. All around new structures are being put up, but Queensbury House is part of the old that is being kept and refurbished. In the process of fixing things up a body is discovered behind a blocked-up fireplace. It won't be the only time that the past inconveniently resurfaces.
       Just two decades earlier Edinburgh had been on the verge of a similar boom, but the vote on Scottish devolution went the wrong way and the bit of independence -- and the possibility of making a lot of money with land speculation and construction work -- didn't come to pass. Despite a more successful turn of events with the coming of the turn of the century that recent past also haunts the present.
       Soon enough there are three bodies: the unidentified one in the fireplace, Roddy Grieve, who was standing for the new parliament, and a homeless man who apparently committed suicide -- and turns out to have some £400,000 in the bank.
       These deaths don't look to have too much to do with one another, but there seem to be some connexions -- and certainly enough mystery. And Detective Inspector John Rebus looks into all three of them. Paired with the arse-crawling up-and-comer DI Derek Linford, Rebus -- anything but a boss' favourite -- has some trouble getting things done his way, but eventually he manages.
       Rough around the edges, generally drinking too much, worried about his daughter Sammy (undergoing rehabilitation down south, after an accident that put her in a wheelchair) but not paying enough attention to her, Rebus is only in his element when he's chasing down the bad guys. On top of it all, it's the Christmas season too, and with everything conspiring against him he has a hard time of it. Compounding it all then is the release from prison of Big Ger Cafferty, a longtime nemesis he thought he'd put away pretty much for good. But Cafferty has an X-ray showing he has cancer and only a short time to live (not that Rebus would fall for that excuse), so they released him.
       The investigations unfold nicely: Rankin does the day-to-day detective work well. From the tiring work of sifting for clues to the complicated office politics these are the best parts of the book (and make up a good piece of it). Rebus jousts with Linford -- who's almost too good to be true, except that it turns out he doesn't take rejection from the ladies too well, which causes problems when the lady is a colleague.
       Aside from the criminal elements that look like they could be involved in all this (including some who have become semi-respectable) there's also the Grieve family: powerful, well-known, and made up of quite a collection of characters. And there's one son who happens to have been missing since 1979 .....
       There's also a secondary narrative thread, following the antics of a pair of mismatched, disgruntled childhood friends who've taken to assaulting women. There's some connexion with the rest of the story, but -- although Rankin does some fine writing here -- it never fully pans out and feels almost like an aborted second novel, tacked onto this one because it couldn't support one of its own.
       As far as the central story, the deaths Rebus is exploring, the build-up is fairly well done, and enjoyable going. It's only when things get tied up that it gets a bit messy and awkward. Not that Rankin doesn't offer a good explanation for what happened: it's the presentation that slips. Linford is conveniently shoved aside -- unfortunate, regardless of how unsympathetic he is -- and the final dynamics between police, suspects, criminals, and others generally don't feel as natural any longer. The lowpoint comes near the end, when someone notes: "Sending someone like Rebus to interview a sick man is tantamount to unlawful killing."
       The ending, with someone Rebus probably doesn't want to see in that position: "back, and in charge of his Edinburgh" offers some promise for the future, but again Rankin doesn't bring it about in the most convincing way. It's a good idea, but the execution disappoints a bit.
       Crowded with characters, Rankin can't pay enough attention to all of them (Linford, in particular, is unceremoniously ignored by book's end), but when he chooses to he can work very nicely with what he's got. Rebus' personal life doesn't interfere too much with goings-on: the drunken binges are kept to a minimum, the one woman in his life -- daughter Sammy -- is out of sight and largely out of mind, and he only sleeps with one wrong woman; his most interesting relationship is with colleague Siobhan Clarke. It's the personal weaknesses of others -- including Linford -- that play as large a role in how things unfold.
       There's the usual good Edinburgh stuff: the city remains a major player in the book, and Rankin covers it well, from the seedy fringes to the fast-changing new-rich parts. And there are a lot of musical references, a largely lost pop culture that dates Rebus (though he's open to the new -- if it's good) -- and lets him (and Rankin) show off a bit.

       Overall Set in Darkness is a solid, big read, with only a few let-downs -- though these are more noticeable because Rankin sets the bar fairly high.

- Return to top of the page -


Set in Darkness: Reviews: Ian Rankin: Other books by Ian Rankin under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       British author Ian Rankin was born in 1960.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2004-2009 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links