Black and Blue by Ian Rankin


Check out another one of my Rebus reviews here.

Rebus is intrigued by the case of Bible John; an unsolved case of the murder of three women yards from their homes, that took place in the late ’60’s. Though he would give anything to be involved in the investigation of a copy-cat who seems to be following the Bible John pattern and is thus being called Johnny Bible, Rebus is caught up in his own problems. An old case is being re-investigated and if things turn out to be different than what was portrayed, Rebus could be in some big trouble. He also has his own investigation to deal with: a man tumbled out of a ruined house and got himself impaled on the fencing. Did he commit suicide? Was he murdered? If so, by whom and to what ends?

Ian Rankin does it again. Another book that examines Scotland from the shady shadows of dark dealings, secrets, mysteries. His books are not just whodunits- they’re a cultural synopsis of a Scotland the kinds of which you won’t see  in glossed over TV shows or travel guides. It leaves you desiring more- but it also leaves you glad to be tucked up in your warm bed at night. And in the end, you’re left wondering why and how such grim things could be a part of the world we live in.

Black and Blue, for me, didn’t quite match up to the level of The Falls, but if you’re trying to understand Rebus better, this is the place to start. Divorced, alcoholic, haunted by the demons of his past, Rebus let’s the cases he works on really get to him. He feels the body and soul of each dead victim and it grapples him in the dark, makes him miserable. Then he seeks solace in alcohol. Too much of it. All the time. He is constantly, insufferably attached to a drink. And when it comes to solving cases, he doesn’t always go by the book. In fact, he often chooses to give the book a complete skip altogether. But he solves his case.

Despite his skills, he is easy to make enemies with. His behaviour worries his colleagues and his bosses alike. But he’s still out there doing his thing, leaving people out of the loop.

The Bible John case is what really gets to you in this book. Three women; one in 1968, two in 1969 were found murdered quite close to their homes. They had all picked up dates at a local dancing house. Through eye-witness accounts, the police manages to get a vague description of the murderer but it is only after the third murder that more information comes to light. Apparently the killer traveled in a taxi with the victim and her sister, before dropping the sister off and doing his thing. The sister described him as well-mannered, polite, eloquent and quoting from the Bible, hence fetching him the name Bible John. This is a true story but Ian Rankin makes it his own by letting us know Bible John in ways the real world does not.

Now there is somebody out there in Rebus’s world who is imitating the real Bible John; murdering women and picking up souvenirs the way the original did. This brings Bible John back into the story as well.

And all the while, Rebus is caught up in an internal investigation against him, about a case in which he might inadvertently been an accessory to a huge cover-up. Rebus isn’t convinced either way but he is starting to feel guilty. And then a case opens up before him.

A man travelled with two companions to an empty, broken down apartment. He was drunk and tumbled to his death, duct-taped to a chair, with a plastic bag over his head. Impaled upon a fence. Maybe he jumped, maybe he was pushed. Rebus is convinced foul play was involved and is eager to get to the bottom of it.

As he delves, he finds corruption and at the root of it- oil. Oil that is fueling not just vehicles but people as well. Rebus cannot let them get away with it. He bends the laws that take him to the truth. But he’ll have justice.

Be warned though, after you turn over the last page, Bible John might just still haunt you; his case remains unsolved. Where did he go? Why did he stop after his third victim? Did it get to him or did someone else? Bone curdling questions.

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