Category Archives: New York Times

Books and Bokes of the year

Boke? Or do you prefer Boak? Look it up!

One of the many aspects of the “festive season” (Bah! Humbug!) that I sincerely, utterly, quiveringly loath is the lists of “best books of the year”.

The New York Times one is up already, so I know what will puff out the “Culture” pages of the weekend papers and magazines.

My reasons for this dyspepsia are:

  • the lists prove what an illiterate, narrow-minded swine I am;
  • are usually full of stuff I see as detritus;
  • induce guilt that I didn’t read the one or two worthy items on the list;
  • and I’ve not caught up with the last century, let alone the last twelve months.

Taking the NYT as an example, I see just the one there that I intend to read: Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railway.

My own list?

Well, it would have to include:

  • Ian Rankin’s latest, and 21st, Rebus: published on 3rd November, arrived, courtesy of Amazon Prime, a day early, read and shelved within a couple of days. One of the very few “newly-published” novels I’ve bought this year, along with the latest Donna Leon and Philip Kerr.
  • Under “military history”, Trevor Royle’s Culloden. Royle did a synopsis for The Scotsman, and that sold it to me.
  • A weekend in Belfast coincided with the Linen Hall Library pop-up second-hand shop, filled with cart-loads of rubbish. Still, I rescued a (apparently unopened) biography of Joseph Walshe and a couple of other items. Nolan on Walshe is a decent effort, not without faults, but it helps to join the dots. Across Fountain Street, a couple of doors down from the Linen Hall itself, is Waterstones. Any large “provincial” Waterstones is always worth a rummage, to see what the locals are keeping to themselves: there, three years late, I found Roger Courtney’s Dissenting Voices.
  • My expensive habit of buying exhibition catalogues means I now own You Say You Want a Revolution, Records and Rebels 1966-1970 from the Victoria and Albert. The whole exhibition seems to spring from the record collection of the late John Peel, padded out with ephemera. If you remember the ’60s, you weren’t there, of course. I was, and I do. Nice to meet old friends (and sing along with Country Joe).
  • Theatre: as age affects the hearing (and the Siemens earpieces help only a little) I tend to buy play-scripts. Confession time: I had never tackled Fletcher and Bill Shagsper’s Two Noble Kinsmen until a weekend in Stratford. Yeah, but nowhere near the exuberance and sheer fun of Aphra Benn’s The Rover in the afternoon matinee (my copy of that script goes back to the RSC production of 1986).
  • Oh, and two real goodies, thieved from one of those pubs which decorate with aged and crumbling books. Also always worth a rummage: there are treasures among the Farmers’ Handbooks for 1922 and the discarded law manuals. One was Anthony Hope’s wry, charming The Dolly Dialogues (a first edition, “reprinted from the Westminster Gazette“, 1896) and RLS’s St Ives.

Eccentric. Eclectic. Pompous. Guilty as charged (even of those last two slight volumes).

Only then do I start to wonder what I’ve missed.

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Filed under History, Literature, New York Times, Northern Ireland, reading, Uncategorized

Don’t look back

Remember The Go-Between:

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

My past has a positive gazetteer of “foreign countries”:

  • In the beginning there was post-War London, with its winter smogs, watching the conductors with their bull’s-eye lamps leading — yes, leading —  trams through the filth of a London particular. And being totally embarrassed by the word “nun” in my father’s The Star crossword. But Londoners had the choice of three evening papers then.
  • There is Wells, Norfolk (see previous posts ad nauseam), where tumbledown flint cottages (yours for hundred quid a throw, or less) became the second-homes for Islingtonians (starting print £350,000 plus).
  • Schull, West Cork, which has suffered a similar fate to north Norfolk, and where I spent a series of mixed-miserable schoolboy-vacations, translating Euripides, swimming among the sea-wrack, and catching a huge pollack (which left the house-cat bloated). And where I was accosted by the Parish Priest and reminded I had not been in church that Sunday. When I protested I was not of his congregation, I was further told that was not the point: I should have been in my church.
  • The light-hearted, golden-age, early-’60s Dublin, where one could eye-ball the likes of Paddy Kavanagh, in the flesh, in his cups, in McDaid’s, for the price of a pint. Now he has a seat by the canal; and the pub has a website.
  • And one particular parenthood (after the other two). This the one we hadn’t expected. Carrying a toddler off the rocking ferry onto Staffa, and across the machair to Fingal’s Cave. Years passing, and having her near-pass out climbing a 13,000 foot peak in the Rockies (she would go on to camp at 18,000 feet in the Himalayas). Then having her escort her ageing Pa past the Spanish Steps, across the Piazza di Spagna, to acknowledge the Keats-Shelley House.

And so on. And so on.

Which brings me to this, in the New York Times. So tell it like it is, Angel Daphne:

NYT

I, too, am Eugene Gant. But I can’t look back: my old neck’s too stiff. But I, like Thomas Wolfe, recall my Lycidas:

Ay me! Whilst thee the shores, and sounding Seas
Wash far away, where ere thy bones are hurled,
Whether beyond the stormy Hebrides,
Where thou perhaps under the whelming tide
Visit’st the bottom of the monstrous world;
Or whether thou to our moist vows deny’d,
Sleep’st by the fable of Bellerus old,
Where the great vision of the guarded Mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona’s hold;
Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth.
And, O ye Dolphins, waft the hapless youth.

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Filed under County Cork, Dublin., History, Literature, New York Times, travel, Wells-next-the-Sea

Peacockery

The ScienceTake feature in the New York Times has an item on how peacocks use twerking and rustling to attract a mate’s attention. Ah, but ScienceTake had been this way before, and only a few months ago:

That’s the second time in a couple of days I’ve had peacocks drawn to my notice. This was the other:

I am thereby reminded of two further incidents.

The first was a TCD legend.

The graduates’ association felt that the Fellows’ Garden needed to be brightened by the addition of peacocks. One by one the daft birds escaped into College Green or Nassau Street; and met an untimely and messy end under Dublin Corporation buses. Some unkind souls suggested they were helped on their way by undergraduates who, like the protesting folk of Ushaw Moor, found the creatures disturbing their sleep.

The other came from an afternoon at Lisbon’s Castelo de São Jorge in Lisbon. Here, too, we find peacocks. They have enough wit to frequent the area around the café:

st-george-s-castle-castelo

So far, so good. The café is shaded by trees: itself a good idea when the sun beats down. However, the peacocks roost in these trees. And peacocks, especially when fed on the scraps from tourists tables, tend to be incontinent.

I watched for a few minutes, but the inevitable didn’t happen. Well, it didn’t happen just then …

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Filed under BBC, New York Times, travel, Trinity College Dublin

The joy of … whatever

It’s called serendipity, making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident. In itself, a serendipitous word — a “sleeper”, like one of those books, pieces of music or any other cultural trivia that emerges into wider appreciation after long hibernation.

Horace Walpole coined it — and we can date that with unusual precision, because the first OED citation is one of his letters, 28th January 1754. Only in the 20th century did the term achieve general currency. Joyce’s Shem is a semisemitic serendipitist [page 191].

My serendipity is finding good writing at random. Oddly enough, those fillers in the travel and property-porn pages often rise above the chuck-away stuff regurgitated by wannabe journos. And the ultimate “filler” is the Sunday supplement, usually worthy articles to space out the prestige advertising.

Which is my case in point, here.

510eVzWc4wL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_The New York Times Magazine is the gold-medallist among Sunday supplements. It provides a regular piece, Letter of recommendation, which is a direct descendant of the essays of Addison, Charles Lamb, or even of Montaigne, the form’s true inventor.

This week’s was Avi Steinberg on Squirrels, 900 words of well-hewn prose. I recognise Steinberg from two earlier, longer, works: Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian and The Lost Book of Mormon: A Journey Through the Mythic Lands of Nephi, Zarahemla, and Kansas City, Missouri. Steinberg might readily be approached through an online Harvard Magazine profile. he’s well worth the effort.

Steinberg on squirrels:

… regardless of how you answer the Squirrel Problem, the key just might be its perfectly ordinary premise: It assumes proximity between human and squirrel, and it also assumes that this close relationship means something. And why not? Because our daily paths are inevitably crossed by running squirrels, shouldn’t squirrels run through our philosophical questions too?

… we are a party to an unusual social contract with the squirrel. She is the only mammal who lives free and works in open, direct contact with humans. Rats and raccoons hide in the shadows. Coyotes lurk on the periphery. The deer and the bunny might as well occupy a kingdom of thin air. Dogs and cats, noble souls though they are, have been turned into a class of indentured clowns.

Squirrels, though, are right there with us. They live on our level and toil on the same schedule as humans, in every season. They share our approach to life’s problems: They save and plan ahead, obsessively. They make deposits and debits (of nuts and seeds, mostly); build highways (returning to well-known routes in and around trees); manage 30-year mortgages (they can inhabit a single nest for that many years); refrigerate their staples (in their case, pine cones); and dry their delicacies for storage (mushrooms, as we do). They work the day shift and live in walk-up apartments. And like stock traders, they gamble in the marketplace. While most animals breed as food becomes available, squirrels have developed the ability to predict a future seed glut and reproduce accordingly, like bullish investors.

I differ from Sternberg in two essentials. First:

Squirrels are scarce in literature, but the few appearances they have made are telling. Herman Melville identified the flying squirrel as the fiction writer’s model for a realistic character: The creature is exactly as weird and incongruous as an actual person. One of Kafka’s most unsung creatures was a squirrel whose “bushy tail was famous in all the forests,” and whom he describes, in a jot in his notebooks, as “always traveling, always searching.”

Shakespeare — only the once, but nevertheless in a well-known context — had a squirrel. It lurks in the Queen Mab speech:

O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the fore-finger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Athwart men’s noses as they lie asleep;
Her wagon-spokes made of long spiders’ legs,
The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,
The traces of the smallest spider’s web,
The collars of the moonshine’s watery beams,
Her whip of cricket’s bone, the lash of film,
Her wagoner a small grey-coated gnat,
Not so big as a round little worm
Prick’d from the lazy finger of a maid;
Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.

That speech, by the way, (and I suspect because of the Prick’d) is where the school internet porn-filter cuts in. Then, I’ve long argued that, were the Powers-That-Be aware just how filthy — filthy I tell’ee!Bill Shagsper can be in the classroom of a dissident teacher, the whole oeuvre would  instantly be proscribed.

And who, with any sensitivity, could overlook the Greatest Squirrel escapologist of them all — Squirrel Nutkin:

10-color-drawing-of-squirrel-giving-owl-a-flower

The other issue is red versus gray.

The prime culprit is — but of course — a banker. In 1876 Thomas Unett Brocklehurst, a Victorian banker decided to ornament his estate at Henry Park, Cheshire, by releasing a pair of American gray squirrels (which is why I eschew “grey” in this context). Other landowners found this charming, and copied Brocklehurst. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

The British — and Shakespearean — revenge was and is the common starling.

Again, we can name and shame the villain: Eugene Schieffelin, who was a drug millionaire and a Bard-nut. In 1890 he released into New York’s Central Park five dozen starlings. The fool was inspired to reproduce in America every bird-species mentioned by Shakespeare.

 

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Filed under Literature, New York City, New York Times, Shakespeare, United States

& and ⁊

That’s an ampersand and the “Tironian” sign for “et” (and so, in the Irish uncial we were taught at school, “agus”).

I’m seriously worried how this will show outside my Mac. Indeed, as I see on the review, it’s already been truncated down to a pathetic right-angle. Thank you, wordpress, for such ignorance: can you do a Hebrew final Kaf? Irish Posts and Telegraphs could:

old-irish-post-box

But it involves something I discovered only today, and feel an urge to share. Woo-woo.

Yeah, I know. Long time, no post. Something to do with “time out’, real life, a couple of weeks away (Madeira, since you didn’t ask), and too much time on politics.ie. That’s where this one first appeared, and drew the instant reply:

reply
For April 1st, the New Yorker‘s “Comma Queen” posted this:

The Illustrious Ampersand

What do law firms, lithographs, and sex clinics have in common? (No lawyer jokes, please.) It’s the ampersand: Masters & Johnson, Currier & Ives, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Developed from the Latin et (“and”), the ampersand, formerly the twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet, is a character with a cult following among students of typography. In prose, the word “and” is preferred, but designers love the ampersand, and publishers use it in “display copy.”

The ampersand — & — has an allure that cannot be denied.

There’s stuff in there which was new to me (and — I hope — to others).

formerly the twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet

Well, yeah, according to Wikipedia:

The ampersand often appeared as a letter at the end of the Latin alphabet, as for example in Byrhtferð’s list of letters from 1011. Similarly, & was regarded as the 27th letter of the English alphabet, as used by children (in the US). An example may be seen in M. B. Moore’s 1863 book The Dixie Primer, for the Little Folks. In her 1859 novel Adam Bede, George Eliot refers to this when she makes Jacob Storey say: “He thought it [Z] had only been put to finish off th’ alphabet like; though ampusand would ha’ done as well, for what he could see.” The popular Apple Pie ABC finishes with the lines “X, Y, Z, and ampersand, All wished for a piece in hand”.
The ampersand should not be confused with the Tironian “et” (“⁊”), which is a symbol similar to the numeral 7. Both symbols have their roots in the classical antiquity, and both signs were used up through the Middle Ages as a representation for the Latin word “et” (“and”). However, while the ampersand was in origin a common ligature in the everyday script, the Tironian “et” was part of a highly specialised stenographic shorthand.

So far, so good.

But:

  • Byrhtferð; who he?
  • “Tironian” what that?

Byrhtferth (c. 970 – c. 1020) gets his own Wikipedia entry, which made that easy. So he’s whom I blame for Old English grammar? —

Byrhtferth’s signature appears on only two unpublished works, his Latin and Old English Manual, and Latin Preface.

An old friend?

I also discover Marcus Tullius Tiro. Why does that name seem familiar? Aha! —

Marcus Tullius Tiro (died c. 4 BC) was first a slave, then a freedman of Cicero. He is frequently mentioned in Cicero’s letters. After Cicero’s death he published his former master’s collected works. He also wrote a considerable number of books himself, and possibly invented an early form of shorthand.

Tiro appears as a recurring character in Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa crime fiction series, where he occupies the role of sometime sidekick to Saylor’s investigator hero, Gordianus the Finder. He is also Robert Harris‘s first-person narrator in the trilogy of Cicero: Imperium (2006), Lustrum (2009, published in the US as Conspirata), and Dictator (2015).

Sadly I realise I was recognising the fictional characters there, rather than recollecting my undergraduate studies. After all, Cicero’s letters Ad Familiares got a fair old doing-over, often as … err … unseen translations.

I hope I won’t alone in welcoming this  also, errr … useful addition to personal knowledge.

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Filed under fiction, Literature, New York Times

… Haven’t got the t-shirt

The Penny Farthing, East Village? I remember it … almost.

D+25

Then it cropped up in a New York Times piece about “Young Republicans”.

Me? I’d vote Democrat; but there’s a philosophical edge to this.

What astounds me is how the Republican Party — the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt — has become the mouthpiece of hard-right money, the gun-makers, the loonies and the fundies.

Whereas almost anything sane about the GOP seems in the last century  to have come out of New York.

I suggest the bright young things John Eurico encountered should give up the fizzy booze, sit down and address the way the (Republicand) Rockefeller) family has used its wealth and influence.

Not a bad record.

And the notion, implicit in this NYT piece, that Republicans are a persecuted minority is crap.

 

 

 

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Filed under New York City, New York Times, politics, Republicanism, US politics

Local rivalries

Not at all sure about this one. It’s Marilyn Stasio doing the regular Crime column for the New York Times Sunday Book Review:

Retirement isn’t for everyone, least of all John Rebus, the hero of Ian Rankin’s mordant police procedurals set in the shadowy underworld of Edinburgh. In EVEN DOGS IN THE WILD (Little, Brown, $26),Rebus’s unorthodox friendship with the aging crime boss “Big Ger” Cafferty allows this retired detective to attach himself to a police investigation into the murder of a former lord advocate and death threats against other high-profile citizens, including Cafferty.

“Sometimes there’s such a thing as a responsible criminal,” according to Rebus, who believes powerful men on both sides of the law are duty-bound to control the crazies in their ranks. Smart players in this tricky game know that “the world of the gangster was the world of the capitalist.” And the markets for their respective professional services must be protected against competitors like Joe Stark and his son, Dennis.

The presence in Edinburgh of these hard men from Glasgow attracts a special task force of fierce Glaswegian cops who are scarier and less principled than the gangsters. The culture clash felt by cops and crooks alike drolly illustrates the tensions between Scotland’s two major cities. One Edinburgh mobster’s impression of Glasgow — “the people spoke differently here, and had a garrulousness to them that spilled over into physical swagger” — is among the more polite comments.

As in many of the Rebus novels, the multiple plotlines don’t always tie up neatly, or even make sense. But the characters’ relationships prove oddly moving, especially the uneasy father-­and-son bond between Rebus and Cafferty, as well as that between the crime boss Joe Stark and his ambitious son. Acknowledging his conflicted feelings, “Joe wished he could feel something other than an echoing emptiness” when Dennis is killed. Rankin sets up a parallel relationship between Detective Inspector Malcolm Fox and his dying father, but it fails to click because Rebus’s nemesis (in previous books, he worked for internal affairs) is still being reborn as a decent cop. But he’s got a long way to go before he can be free of the impression he gives, of “a soulless, spunkless middle manager from the most boring company on the planet.”

Apologies due and freely offered for quoting that bit in full.

I’m “not sure” for a couple of quibbles

I had my copy of Even Dogs in the Wild on pre-order, and on 5th November. Rankin is an important novelist — a bigger field than just crime fiction — and this, after a two-year lay-off, is an important book. Does it really take two months to come onto the American market?

I see that Rankin is doing one of those coast-to-coast book-signings from the end of this month. Was that a factor in any delay? If so, it seems a strange one, because the chain book-sellers must have sold shed-loads of this title in the pre-Christmas furore.

Stasio  is quite correct in those first two paragraphs. In life, as in art, the crook and the copper are to some extent in cahoots. The one keeps the other in business. The other keeps the one under some constraints. Without each other, there is no literary or social tension. Sociologists have serially noted that the characteristics needed for either match those of the opponent. Rebus is a decent sociologist, and his creator has access to and, doubtless, advice from some of the better sociological brains in Britain.

Under the Antonine Wall

Last autumn the Lady in My Life and I undertook a small pilgrimage to a modern marvel: the Falkirk Wheel. And took the short boat (that blue job entering the caisson) up the wheel, through the Rough Castle tunnel and back. The tunnel is there is avoid disturbing one of the best remaining sections of the second-century Roman earthwork that originally stretched from the Forth to the Clyde.

So I ruminate on the links and antipathies, as Stasio does, between Scotland’s two great cities. Today Edinburgh is “white-collar” (banking, insurance, government) while Glasgow retains a more “blue-collar” grittiness. Even now Edinburgh (thanks to Rankin himself, Irvine Welsh, JK Rowling, Alexander McCall Smith, the late Iain Banks) has a literary connection which outshines Glasgow (despite Bernard MacLaverty, Louise Welsh, et al.)

A Malcolmian aside

That said, I’ll defend the opening of Christopher Brookmyre’s Quite Ugly One Morning as my personal best for any policier:

quite_ugly_UK_pb_200‘Jesus fuck.’

Inspector McGregor wished there was some kind of official crime scenario checklist, just so that he could have a quick glance and confirm that he had seen it all now. He hadn’t sworn at a discovery for ages, perfecting instead a resigned, fatigued expression that said, ‘Of course. How could I have possibly expected anything less?’

The kids had both moved out now. He was at college in Bristol and she was somewhere between Bombay and Bangkok, with a backpack, a dose of the runs and some nose‐ringed English poof of a boyfriend. Amidst the unaccustomed calm and quiet, himself and the wife had remembered that they once actually used to like each other, and work had changed from being somewhere to escape to, to something he hurried home from.

He had done his bit for the force – worked hard, been dutiful, been honest, been dutifully dishonest when it was required of him; he was due his reward and very soon he would be getting it.

Islay. Quiet wee island, quiet wee polis station. No more of the junkie undead, no more teenage jellyhead stabbings, no more pissed‐up rugby fans impaling themselves on the Scott Monument, no more tweed riots in Jenners, and, best of all, no more fucking Festival. Nothing more serious to contend with than illicit stills and the odd fight over cheating with someone else’s sheep.

Bliss.

Christ. Who was he kidding? He just had to look at what was before him to realise that the day after he arrived, Islay would declare itself the latest independent state in the new Europe and take over Ulster’s mantle as the UK’s number one terrorist blackspot.

The varied bouquet of smells was a delightful courtesy detail. From the overture of fresh vomit whiff that greeted you at the foot of the close stairs, through the mustique of barely cold urine on the landing, to the tear‐gas, fist‐in‐face guard‐dog of guff that savaged anyone entering the flat, it just told you how much fun this case would be.

McGregor looked grimly down at his shoes and the ends of his trousers. The postman’s voluminous spew had covered the wooden floor of the doorway from wall to wall, and extended too far down the hall for him to clear it with a jump. His two‐footed splash had streaked his Docs, his ankles and the yellowing skirting board. Another six inches and he’d have made it, but he hadn’t been able to get a run at it because of the piss, which had flooded the floor on the close side of the doorway, diked off from the tide of gastric refugees by a draught excluder.

My offering in evidence that Glaswegian-spawned noir darkens anything from Auld Reekie. Corroborative evidence: try Denise Mina.

Where I differ from Stasio

As in many of the Rebus novels, the multiple plotlines don’t always tie up neatly, or even make sense. Really? I thought some loose ends were there to remind the reader that not all fiction is a neat fairy tale, and are in any case often pursued by Rankin and Rebus in a subsequent episode.

the uneasy father-­and-son bond between Rebus and Cafferty: huh? The major characters each refer consciously to the parent-child relationship. That is established, as fore-shadowing, with Malcolm Fox in Chapter One:

Standing under the shower, he considered his options. The bungalow in Oxgangs that he called home would fetch a fair price, enough to allow him to relocate. But then there was his dad to consider – Fox couldn’t move too far away, not while Mitch still had breath in his body.

Similarly Fox and Cafferty note the father/son relationships in their problems with the Starks:

Joe Stark’s wife had died young, leaving him to bring up their only child, Dennis. Fox reckoned Joe had lacked any but the most basic parenting skills. He’d been too busy extending his empire and consolidating his reputation as one of the most ruthless thugs in Glasgow gangland – which was no mean feat, considering the competition. Dennis had been trouble from his earliest days in primary school. Bullied (and maybe worse, ignored) by his father, he’d become a bully himself. It helped that he’d grown up fast, building muscle to go with his threats. In his early teens, only a wily lawyer had stopped him doing time for an attack outside a football ground.

He had used an open razor – similar to Joe’s weapon of choice in the 1970s. That interested Fox – the son imitating the father, hoping to gain his approbation. In his twenties, Dennis had served two stretches in HMP Barlinnie, which did little to curb his excesses while at the same time making him new allies.

and:

[Cafferty] was willing to pay top dollar for up-to-date information on the Starks, father and son, plus their associates, close or otherwise. He’d already learned that they had visited certain businesses in Aberdeen and Dundee in the previous week, which backed up his theory that Dennis was being introduced to people prior to taking over from his old man.

This is the fulcrum of the novel, and where it ends:

Opening the Saab and getting in, Rebus gave Brillo’s coat a rub before starting the engine. He watched as Cafferty’s figure receded, then lifted a CD from the passenger seat and slotted it home. It had arrived first thing, mail order. The album was called The Affectionate Punch. He skipped through it to track seven and listened as Billy Mackenzie started to sing about a boy, a boy frightened, neglected, abandoned. Sons and fathers, he thought: Malcolm and Mitch Fox, Dennis and Joe Stark, Jordan Foyle and Bryan Holroyd. His phone alerted him to a text. It was from Samantha. She had sent the photo he’d asked for, the one of him and Carrie. He studied it for a moment before showing it to a quizzical Brillo; then, having turned up the volume on the stereo, he reversed out of the parking space and headed back into the city.

a soulless, spunkless middle manager: this is pulled from near the end of the story. I suggest a fuller reference changes the context:

Buttoning up his coat, Fox started walking, sticking to the paved route so as to save his shoes getting muddied. A cheap souped-up saloon car passed him, its occupants barely out of their teens. Both front windows were down so the world outside could share their taste in what they presumably thought was music. They paid Fox no heed though. He wasn’t like Rebus – he didn’t  look  like a cop. A detective he’d once investigated when in Complaints had described him as resembling ‘a soulless, spunkless middle manager from the most boring company on the planet’. Which was fine – he’d been called worse. It usually meant he was closing in on a result. And the fact that he didn’t stand out from the crowd could be useful. As far as the kids in the car were concerned, he barely existed – if they’d thought him a threat, the car would have stopped and a scene of sorts would have ensued. Instead of which, he arrived at the lock-ups without incident.

A final dither

Quite whither Rankin from here is a topic of some speculation. He has “retired” Rebus repeatedly, but keeps returning to some unfinished business — now we have Rebus and the dog Brillo as an unfinished strand.

contentCraig Cabell has considered this in Ian Rankin and Inspector Rebus — The Official Story of the Bestselling Author and his Ruthless Detective. “Official” in the sense that much of the book is taken from interviews (and now five years and at least three novels out-of-date). Rankin’s answer:

“You asked me right at the beginning of this interview: how many more books are left? Well, the time to finish the series realistically is when I haven’t got anything new to find out about Rebus, when he’s got nothing new to show me, or he becomes tedious to write about and I’ve got nothing new to say about Edinburgh through his eyes.”

Rankin told me this during my Fleshmarket Close interview. At the time I thought he was cranking himself up for a Rebus in retirement set of books but he kept assuring me that he didn’t know – never knew in fact – what the next book was going to be about until he started it. In August 2009, shortly after the proofs of The Complaints had gone off and the hardback was awaiting release, he told me that he still didn’t know what the next book would be. He was determined to have a year off: he wasn’t going to write another graphic novel (because he didn’t enjoy the experience much), he still didn’t know if he was going to continue with Siobhan, but the new character – Inspector Malcolm Fox – intrigued him and as Rankin told me in July 2009, there were enough skeletons in Rebus’s closet to warrant investigation…

Good enough prospect for me.

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Filed under Detective fiction, Ian Rankin, New York Times, Scotland