The Beat Goes On: The Complete Rebus Stories by Ian Rankin

The Grand Old Man in shorts…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

the beat goes onLast year, after one of his friends died unexpectedly at a young age, Ian Rankin announced that he’d be taking a year or two off from novel writing to have a bit of a rest. I assume this collection of short stories has been issued to fill the void that many of us Rebus fans would have felt without a new book for the winter. And, since I haven’t read any of these before, it filled that void very satisfactorily.

There are 29 stories, ranging in length from a few pages to near-novella, but with most falling into the 20-40 minutes-to-read zone, so perfect bedside table material for late-night reading. There is also an interesting essay at the end where Rankin tells the story of how Rebus came into existence, which gives us some biographical snippets into how Rankin himself became a crime writer.

Normally, when reviewing a short story collection, I find myself commenting on the variable quality of the stories, but I really can’t say that with this one. I found each of the stories, short or long, to be pretty much equally good, and while they obviously don’t have the complexity or depth of the novels, they show all Rankin’s normal talents for plotting and characterisation, and are as well written as the books. In fact, because we know the main characters so well, Rankin doesn’t have to spend much time on developing them, allowing him to pack a lot of story into a compact space. A few of them have a Christmas or New Year theme, I guess because they were originally written for newspaper or magazine Christmas specials. And a couple make reference to stories from great Edinburgh writers of the past – Muriel Spark and Arthur Conan Doyle – giving a glimpse into Rankin’s own influences.

Ian Rankin
Ian Rankin

Each story is entirely consistent with the Rebus we know, but sometimes angled so that we see a new facet of his character, or get a closer look at an old one. They are spread throughout his career, with the first story being the most recently written – a prequel more or less to his latest novel Saints of the Shadow Bible, when Rebus was a new detective learning the ropes – right through to his retirement (which we now know didn’t last long). The bulk, however, are set in the earlier period, so there’s more of Brian Holmes as his sidekick than of Siobhan Clarke, who only came into the series mid-way through. I found this particularly pleasurable since it’s a long time since I’ve read any of the older books and I enjoyed the trip down memory lane with a younger Rebus. I was intrigued to realise that, although I tend to think back on the early Rebus as one of the drunken mavericks of his day who has since mellowed with age, in fact in comparison to a lot of today’s detectives he was actually both functional and professional throughout – clearly it’s the genre that’s shifted, rather than Rebus…or Rankin. I also felt there was more than a touch of William McIlvanney in the earlier stories, but that his influence seemed to fade as they went on, presumably as Rankin developed into his own equally strong style.

The stories include all kinds of mysteries, from shop-lifting to murder, and the occasional one is really more an observation of a particular aspect of Edinburgh life than a crime story. In total, they left me in no doubt that Rankin is just as much a master of the short story as the novel. I found this a completely satisfying collection, and one that I’m sure to dip in and out of many times again.

* * * * * * * *

Just for fun I tried the newish Whispersync feature for Kindle with this one – that is, that if you buy the Kindle book, you can add the Audible version at a reduced cost (or for ‘free’ if, like me, you have a bunch of Audible credits you haven’t yet used). Technically, it didn’t really sync on the Kindle Fire which was a disappointment – it meant that when switching from reading to listening I was always having to find my place. Not too much of a problem with short stories, but could be tedious in a full-length novel.

James Macpherson
James Macpherson

However, this particular Audible book is superbly narrated by James Macpherson who, you may remember, took over as the lead in Taggart after Mark McManus died. Not only is he an excellent narrator, but his voice and accent are ideally suited for the character of Rebus and as a skilled actor he also creates different personas for all the other many characters who appear in the stories. I thought it was a first rate recording, and thoroughly enjoyed splitting the book between reading and listening. It’s something I would do again – especially for short stories. A good narration can definitely add something to the original. On the audiobook version, too, the essay Rankin on Rebus is narrated by Ian Rankin himself, which made it a little bit extra-special (especially since he has a lovely voice too). I’d happily recommend the book, the audiobook or both to all Rebus fans out there, or even perhaps as an introduction for new readers to the grand old man of Tartan Noir.

Amazon UK Link
Audible on Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link
Audible on Amazon US Link

46 thoughts on “The Beat Goes On: The Complete Rebus Stories by Ian Rankin

  1. FictionFan – No need to convince me that this collection is worth reading. I truly respect Rankin’s need for a break, but it’s nice to have this as a ‘fill-in’ as we see what he’ll do when he gets back to writing if he chooses to do that. It goes straight to the TBR.

    • Yes, I think he’s quite right to take a break – churning out a new book every year on top of all the other stuff he does must be exhausting. And this book has encouraged me to revisit some of the earlier books – it’s so long since I read them, it’ll be almost like reading new ones…

    • He’s been one of my favourites for longer than I care to remember, and this was a bit different. Definitely a Santa-type book – great for winter reading (or listening), especially with the several Christmas-related stories. Santa himself appears more than once…

          • Well, I won’t hold you responsible if I don’t like it. We seem to have quite similar tastes so I trust your judgement. Horowitz is brilliant, I can’t imagine not enjoying his work. I will let you know 😀

            • Ah, Portergirl…I investigated your intriguing premise for a blog, but didn’t want to beg for entry as I noticed you refusing someone entry on your comments bit…what can I do to get in?!! Send you a basket of exotic fruit? Or should I kidnap Mr Horowitz, deliver him to you, and demand he tells you bedtime stories? I’m dying to find “The Key”…

      • Love Rebus (but Malcolm Fox, not so much…) – I recall picking up his books 3 for 2 when there only four or so out, in Waterstones in Glasgow. It was quite a thrill to get a Scottish-set crime novel then; apart from, as you mention, William McIlvanney (such a charming and handsome chap!) there were none, and he only has three…now you can’t move for Tartan Noir! I’ve read some of his short stories, I think Beggar’s Banquet is a short story collection if my memory serves me correctly, but not all. Not a huge fan of them, normally, but I could make an exception for Rebus…I noticed he’s also co-written a play, the book of which you can buy, so he hasn’t had an entirely restful year…I did wonder why there were no more Rebus books out for the Christmas market, but I’d no idea he was taking time out or the reason why…I hope he’s back suitably rested in the next couple of years. Such a huge talent.

        • I liked Malcolm Fox too, though I was delighted when Rebus returned. I hadn’t read McIlvanney till recently so had never really noticed his influence in the Rebus books before. But although there’s loads of Scottish crime writers now, I must say I still think McIlvanney and Rankin are head and shoulders above the rest.

          (The play seemed to get slated, so I decided to give it a miss.)

  2. Just checked – it’s A Good Hanging I recall reading before. Beggars Banquet is non Rebus short stories…I noticed as I was checking the price for it – you’re a bad influence FictionFan!

    • Hmm…both A Good Hanging and Beggars Banquet are included in this one, so you may have read most of these already. There’s only two or three original stories and half a dozen or so that haven’t been collected into a book before…

  3. Possibly…but it’d be great to get them collected in one volume…which means buying a hard copy. Thanks for the tip read the play – rather odd reading plays; it’s like being back at school!

  4. Interesting to hear how you could spot early influences to Rankin’s writing in this collection. I’ve not tried the whispersync feature, it sounds like the sync part needs more work and from the sound of the quality of the narration, they don’t whisper 😉

  5. Aha! This chap…I think I’ve heard of him. Was the shop-lifting down by a kid? It always is, I fear. Either that or a very old man. With a white beard, maybe.

    I do like short stories, and I think I’d like listening better than reading…sometimes, that is.

    • I’ve found the shoplifting is often done by a middle aged, middle class lady, who cries at being caught in case her husband finds out. The crime invariably involves a tin of salmon. It’s a shame that not everyone is like the Professor who enjoys short stories; I think they very often involve more skill than a novel. I like to read them when waiting at the dentist (Crimeworm suffers from frequent “issues” with her teeth. So much so that she looks forward to the dentist, as it’s like seeing an old friend.)

      • Salmon? *shivers* I don’t know who would steal that. *maybe shivers more* I say, dentists can be quite nice fellows, and come in handy. Sometimes, that is. They can also be beastly. All of the sudden, I’m reminded of that dentist that Alan Menken wrote about.

        • It’s tinned salmon that’s questionable…fresh salmon straight from the river is a rare treat…although it wasn’t so rare when Crimeworm was a child and her father and his friend poached so much salmon the Crimeworm family was sick of it! (Crimeworm reminds any police reading of the statute of limitations….) Dentists nowadays aren’t like Alan Menken’s…I fear there isn’t as much capacity to cause pain nowadays, so sadists may be discouraged from that career path…Crimeworm hopes…*shivering also*

  6. It’s so interesting to me to read about the books behind many of the BBC crime series. I am much more a watcher than reader, I fear. However, the short stories sound fascinating.

    • I went through years where I watched far more TV than I read books. It’s only the last few years that I’ve been reading so much again – mainly because of free books! 😉 These are good though, and just the right kind of length for dipping into…

  7. Sorry to be rude by not commenting on your review, but focusing on the end of your post. We’re buying our son a Kindle Voyage for his birthday, but it may become the family’s. Is that fair? Then we can all “whisper,” right?

    • Gosh! I wish they’d call all these things by the same names in the US and UK! That’s the new 6″ reader, is it – as opposed to being a tablet? (Looks great!)

      The honest answer is, I don’t know. From the product page I’m not sure the Voyage has speakers – I know some of the newer readers don’t play audiobooks. And in terms of you all being able to use it – again I’m not sure (I’m being incredibly helpful here aren’t I?). I know you can register more than one Kindle to an Amazon account, but whether you can register more than one account to a Kindle I don’t know. However if you bought all books for the family through one account, then you could certainly do it that way…

      So sorry! I’m one of these people who only learns the minimum I need to know about gadgets, and ignores all the rest…

      • I think you have to be like that, or you’d have to dedicate your whole life to technology developments! I did wonder when I read the question what a Kindle Voyage was…had no idea they had other names abroad – it would be interesting to learn what they base these bizarre decisions on? Is there some kind of psychological evidence that some names are more effective in the UK than US and vice versa? (Or is that just me and my geeky nature??)

  8. Sounds like a great read. I had the great pleasure of meeting Ian Rankin when he visited Melbourne a couple of years ago, and I was impressed by both his diligence and his kindness.

    • I always love Rankin’s books – he gives such a balanced picture of Scotland, something very few writers achieve. I’ve never met him, but he appears a lot on TV here as a literary/arts critic and I always think of him as one of the people who’d be a must at my fantasy bookie dinner party. 😉

      • I always watch anything he’s on – I do miss the weekly Review Show, where he often popped up. If he comes to your fantasy dinner party, could I come too? If dead people are allowed, I’d like Robert Burns for one. (Brought back to life, obviously. I’m not Dennis Nilsen!)

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