Thursday, March 12, 2009

Exit Music, by Ian Rankin

This is the last book of the Inspector Rebus series, and I'm ready to be done with him too. Rebus is one week from retirement when the book opens, and finishes his last day at the end. Rankin has hinted that he may continue the series with the younger cops from the series, but that Rebus is done.

Will I follow the Further Adventures of Siobhan Clarke? Maybe. . . .

This mystery has a decided international flavor, when an expatriot Russian poet is found beaten to death in a dark alley, in the same week a large number of Russian "businessmen" are visiting Edinburgh and being lavishly wined and dined and flaunting their new wealth. Down in London, a Russian journalist has been poisoned (this really happened) by a rare radioactive isotope. Soon afterward, the sound man who recorded the poet's last reading is found dead when his home is torched.

Rebus and Clarke believe these to be connected--the fire was apparently set to destroy all the recordings that were made. Some of those recordings were of a series of Parliamentary committee hearings addressing urban development proposals backed by some of the Russians. Suspicions are further aroused at the repeated appearance of several banking big wigs. And Cafferty.

Cafferty is Rebus's bete noire, the Hyde to his Jekyll. Throughout the series, Rebus has tried repeated to get Cafferty put away for good. In an earlier book in the series, Cafferty gets out of prison by switching x-rays so it looks as if he is dying of cancer. Of course he isn't, and he gets away with it.

In this book, Cafferty is meeting with the Russians, clearly putting together some big (and undoubtedly shady) land deals. He also owns the building where Nancy lives--Nancy who was the one to discover the Poet's dead body. His continued criminal activity has become a personal insult to Rebus. Not to be heavy-handed with the metaphor, or anything, but numerous characters mention that the two of them are "very similar." Rebus is assumed to be too close to Cafferty and believed to be his friend. Simultaneously, he is also fixated on arresting Cafferty and has to be warned off so he doesn't interfere with a large scale financial crimes case being made against him by the Scottish DEA.

So, the good stuff in these books is still good--Rankin shows Edinburgh in its many contradictory facets--the rich and poor, the natives and the tourists, business and government, elegant hotels and seedy pubs. The criminal investigations are convincingly dreary and often the cops are casting about for any leads, unable to quickly resolve these complicated crimes.

But the bad starts to outweigh the good for me, at least after about 5 of these books. Rebus gets less and less pleasant to spend time with. He is ham fisted in his investigation, bullying witnesses, co-workers, and friends. The farther he is from the truth (as it turns out, later) the nastier he gets, often just for the sake of being nasty. And he's dangerously impulsive, as well as oppositional, hardly more than a toddler in his emotional development.

For example, at one point, he sends the DEA agents on a wild goose chase, just so he can talk to Cafferty without being observed. Why? What was so important that he had to go at just that minute? Nothing. When the DEA guys find out they were jerked around, not only are they angry, but it turns out that while they were gone, somebody went and coshed Cafferty--landing him in a coma for the duration of the book. Whose the obvious suspect? Rebus, of course. Only because he couldn't wait a damn minute once he decided he needed to talk to Cafferty.

Worse is what happens to Siobhan Clarke during the course of this book. Supposedly, once Rebus retires, there will be a promotion slot available, and Clarke is the logical person to get it. But like Scully to Mulder, Clarke can't seem to step away from the toxicity that is Rebus. He wants the DEA guys out of the way, so he tells Clarke to make the call. She does. Makes me want to smack her upside the head for being stupid. There is really no evidence that she is in any way ready to be promoted, since she is imcapable of taking a step without Rebus's approval.

Rebus gets himself suspended, yet again. He is not only taken off the case, but barred from the police station for the last three days before his retirement. Yet Clarke consults with him, arranges meetings so he can listen in (either in person, or over her cell phone), follows his orders in calling the DEA agents--when simple interest in her own continued employment should suggest that THIS IS STUPID. And she keeps doing it, over and over again. Sure, occasionally she says "you are suspended, you know." He says "I know," and so then she does whatever he wants her to.

Frankly, if she really was as talented as various characters say she is, they'd have broken up her partnership with Rebus and assigned her to someone who was less suicidal about his career. How can we take her seriously as a cop when she is so clearly a patsy?

Let's talk about that suspension a little bit. Rebus has gone and gotten into the face of the biggest of the bank big wigs, mostly for threatening his step-daughter and insulting his wife. Gratuitously, I might add, since it turns out that the Big Wig has nothing to do with the murders. But, once suspended, his boss DOESN'T TELL ANYBODY. None of the other cops ever learn about it (other than Clarke), so he's free to keep ordering people around and continuing the investigation. Even after he becomes Number One Suspect for Cafferty's coshing, the word of his suspension doesn't get around. It's like he's made out of Teflon.

Probably the most irritating thing for me about these books is that the mystery gets drawn out over hundreds of pages (or a dozen hours or so of audio), but the solution happens all of the sudden at the very end in a couple paragraphs in a rushed and unsatisfying way. The first few times, I thought it was my fault, for getting distracted at the end. Now, I'm convinced it's Rankin's fault.

The dead Poet? The guy who would drink too much and then hit on women (usually willing, due to his inherent Russian sexiness)? Turns out he was beaten to death by a jealous husband. Nothing to do with the other Russians, or the consulate, or Cafferty at all. What?

The torched sound guy? Apparently the Russian Businessman had his house burned to destroy a recording where he was caught saying "I wish he [the Poet] were dead." He didn't kill the Poet, but committed murder to avoid being charged with murder. What? Plus, the sound guy's murder is treated throughout the book only as confirmation that the Poet's death was not a random mugging gone bad, never as a crime in its own right.

Cafferty? Turns out that a young cop, a temporary addition to the CID, blamed Cafferty and Rebus for his family's bad fortune after his grandfather was jailed on a drugs charge. TWENTY YEARS AGO. Grandpa died in jail OF A HEART CONDITION which would have gotten him anyway, in jail or not. WHEN THE KID WAS FOUR. Like he had any experience of his family before. Sure, Grandpa was dealing drugs for Cafferty, got caught when Cafferty planted more serious drugs in his pub, and Rebus was the cop who testified at the trial, but is that really enough for a two decade vendetta?

Plus, the kid learns that Rebus's trunk doesn't close properly, steals a crime scene sanitary suit, and manages to cosh Cafferty and frame Rebus in the few minutes between Rebus leaving Cafferty alive and the DEA agents coming back from their wild goose chase. Sure. He happens to be away from all the other cops, with the stolen crime scene suit, which he is wearing, with whatever weapon he used (never revealed, by the way), attacks Cafferty, plants a boot to tie Rebus to the scene, burns the rest of the suit, and goes back to work without being noticed, and without any change in his demeanor? This quiet, churchy young guy?

Who also happens to have a girlfriend who is a Scene of Crime Officer, and so would herself have plenty of suits, so there is no reason to take one from Rebus? And, of course, since a boot was found at the scene, it had to belong to Rebus and nobody else? It just makes no sense.

At the end of the book, in the epilogue, Rebus and Clarke go to visit Cafferty in the hospital, and he conviniently flat-lines while they are there. Rebus--in a near cliche of not being able to let go--jumps onto the bed and administers CPR, unwilling to let Cafferty die without being convicted of his crimes. "Will he be all right?" Rebus demands. "Will he be all right?" THE END.

I guess my feeling is that Rebus has become too formulaic, to the point of sacrificing the characters in favor of clumsy plotting to keep him an outsider, a renegade, a stereotypical lone wolf cop figure. I guess I'm done with him too.

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