The Review: The Black Book by Ian Rankin (1993)


Title: The Black Book
Author: Ian Rankin
Date Of Version Reviewed: 2011
Publisher: Orion Fiction
RRP: £7.99
ISBN: 978-1-4072-4661-1

What the book is about…

When a close colleague is brutally attacked, inspector John Rebus is brawn into a case involving a hotel fire, an identified body, and a long forgotten night of terror and murder. Pursued by dangerous ghosts and tormented by the coded secrets of his colleagues notebook, Rebus must piece together a jigsaw no one – perhaps not even he – wants to complete.


A short, simply review for a simple read.

Whilst others have described this novel as ‘enthralling’, ‘intriguing’ and ‘action packed’ I find myself shaking my head, wondering whether I am missing something as I collect my thoughts in some sort of order for this review.The cliches are out in force in The Black Book; the grumpy detective, the estranged partner, the younger up-start junior colleague and the seemingly untouchable baddie. Rebus as a character is fairly likeable, albeit a tad generic. His relationship with his brother is interweaved through the books and his on-off-on relationship with a doctor is vaguely interesting. I really want to get to the meat of Rebus’ character and this novel doesn’t bring that to the fore. I don’t get an understanding of what makes Rebus ‘tick’, why he does what he does and what drives him.

The plot is reasonably executed though with so many similar characters it can be all too easy to get lost in the who’s who of characters. Whilst we are meant to dislike the scheming Cafferty we don’t get enough about him as a character to really find him repulsive. I have the belief that in order to get the reader engaged in the story an author must make the protagonist likeable and the antagonist must embody things that are genuinely unpleasant. I liken a novel to a TV or movie character; why do I care whether you solve the case? Unfortunately Rankin doesn’t give me the answer.

Lazy writing. Having read Rankin before I was disappointed that he took the easy way out by tying together all the loose ends simply by doing a diary entry at the end. Of all the ways in which an author can explain away some of the minor details I find this way the laziest. There is no attempt to ‘show not tell’ the audience as Rebus sits reading the diary entry of a central character who confesses everything that he did and what he saw. Reading this it felt as though Rankin thought ‘Agh, I give up… I will just tell them what happened’. I was not expecting a classic or piece of literary genius but I expected a little more professionalism from Rankin who – on a good day – can be brilliant.

Final Thought: Rankin demonstrates the problems when an author tries too hard to tie up loose ends and subsequently takes the lazy way out. The book is good if you want a quick read of something crime but the way in which Rankin handles the execution is not what one would expect of a professional author.

Rating: 4/10


The Folks at Goodreads said…

“The plot was enthralling and the twists intriguing. I am usually pretty good at guessing outcomes but parts of this fooled me completely.”   Diane Dickson  4/5

“I think I’ve had enough of heavy drinking bad tempered detectives.”  Sadlam 2/5

” The Black Book has a clever plot which I found interesting and gripping, I found it hard to put the book down.” Kevin Marsh 5/5

Yeah, I did complete the book, but it took a lot of time, and I can’t say that I enjoyed it a lot.”  Ching Bing Ping 3/5

“This series is getting stronger as a whole even if this wasn’t the best entry I’ve read to date.”  Richard 4/5

“Sadly, the library did not have the first book in the inspector Rebus series, so I read this instead. I still was unimpressed, so I guess that’s the end of Mr. Rankin for me.”  Jann 2/5


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