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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Good Hanging

Ian Rankin

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To purchase A Good Hanging

Title: A Good Hanging
Author: Ian Rankin
Genre: Stories
Written: 1992
Length: 307 pages
Availability: A Good Hanging - US
A Good Hanging - UK
A Good Hanging - Canada
  • A Good Hanging contains twelve stories starring John Rebus

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Our Assessment:

B : decent small stories, but not very challenging

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The detective story -- the short story -- is a difficult form. It doesn't allow for easy character development or much intricacy, two things that readers have come to expect from Ian Rankin's John Rebus novels. A Good Hanging is a game but odd effort, small adventures -- twelve stories, none more than thirty-odd pages long (with big type at that) -- that give a few more glimpses of Rebus but ultimately don't add up to much.
       The cases Rebus deals with here are simpler and more focussed than those found in the novels, and far more easily disposed of. Brian Holmes is the occasional trusty assistant, but even more than usual Rebus is seen on his own, and police politics barely figure. A few of these cases have some potential -- one almost sees how Rankin couldn't quite twist a novel out of them. Others are strictly throwaway entertainments, a simple idea Rankin wants to toy with. There's little that's outright bad -- the cases are clever enough (though generally the (re)solution is too obvious), and Rankin's filler material readable enough -- but not much that is truly memorable.
       Things get off to a relatively bad start in Playback, not least because the clever idea behind it all isn't very clever, but rather entirely transparent from the first. Things aren't helped by how dated the technology seems -- or rather Rebus' amazement at incredible things like telephone answering machines that actually log the time someone called (but Rankin hasn't ever been very good with technology).
       The mysteries tend to hinge on small details -- an alibi furnished by the roar of a crowd at a goal scored at a football game, for example -- and there are a fair number of things that aren't quite what they seem at first. Occasionally, Rankin is too clever -- the Twelfth Night reference in the title story surely could only happen in a detective story -- and there are some striking coincidences (con men who just happen to knck on his door), but it's all generally just entertaining enough to hold the reader's attention. Even the appearance of an Inspector Cluzeau visiting from France in the last story can be forgiven, though that exercise in a traditional whodunit story is among the weaker mysteries.
       One story does stand apart, and is of greater interest: Sunday, describing Rebus' day of rest, puttering about at home. There's more to it than that, it turns out -- it's not just every Sunday -- and for once there's a bit more of Rebus to see. Not enough, but a tantalizing start. Rankin adds too much, and turns attention back to what led up to this particular day, but even that's a decent story. Here were the makings of a novel -- and it could use the greater space.
       The Gentlemen's Club is the other truly underdeveloped story in the collection. Not much to go on here, but Rankin allows himself a nice dark touch to its final resolution, and it would have made a nice sub-plot in one of the novels.
       A Good Hanging is not a bad collection, but it's not particularly good either. It passes time well enough, but it's hardly memorable. Rankin's style, especially the grand pronouncements and philosophical musings, jar more in the small space than they do in the novels, and far too much feels insubstantial. A few of the mysteries are weak, a few are clever enough to please, but there's just not enough here that offers much of a challenge, or keeps its hold long enough to truly impress.

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A Good Hanging: 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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