Bonnie’s Book Bytes

Bonnie Godas

Years ago I had the chance to visit the British Isles. One of the most amazing places is Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. This is a city that has so much charm and beauty and people still enjoy the fine art of elaborate conversation (just like me-ask my editor!) It is a mystical, yet welcoming, place where one can go back and visit often and never get tired of it. But in many ways, it can seem dark and seedy, making it a great place for a crime story. It is a city that Ian Rankin knows only too well and where most of his novels are set.

Exit Music is the last of seventeen novels by Rankin that features the likeable, though sometimes crass, inspector John Rebus. Rebus is finally about to retire after many years. His partner, Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clark, has been along for the ride and has been trained and guided by Rebus to succeed him. Unfortunately, that plan is put on hold when two murders are committed. The first is that of a famous Russian poet (who, in my opinion, strikingly parallels real-life Russian Alexander Litvinenko), first thought to be a “random act.” Soon after, a musical recording artist who had close ties with the poet is also murdered. With his natural talent and determination for solving a crime, Rebus is once again at the scene hoping this crime will be solved before he permanently leaves his position.

In Exit Music, Rankin also reflects the history of Scottish independence and includes the political motives that the person (or people) who are responsible for these murders may have had. The way Rankin writes makes the reader feel like he or she is right there in Edinburgh, sitting on the front steps of the Edinburgh Castle following the details of the crimes in the Edinburgh Evening News.

In his novels, the characters, like Rebus, often reflect Rankin’s own personality. His being once in a punk band and a lover of music, he associates the music in his writing with classic rock bands like The Who and The Rolling Stones; this may also be the reason for the title Exit Music. The retirement of Rebus is also, in a way, a kind of swan song that celebrates Rankin’s long and enthusiastic career.

The drama in Rankin’s books does not end here with the last of the Rebus series. (Or is it the last?) For all of Rankin’s fans out there, there is a website that actually maps out the places in Edinburgh where Rebus lives and solves his cases. There is even a place called the Oxford Bar where both Rebus and Rankin himself love to frequent.

Crime is not usually a genre of writing that is a universal favorite. But maybe one can start with the novels of Ian Rankin, stories that may make us all crime story fans and entice us to take a great trip to Scotland and discover our own inner Rebus.