Showing posts with label Tartan Noir. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tartan Noir. Show all posts

25 August 2021

A Song for the Dark Times


How come Inspector Rebus gets better and better? Lee Child asks on the dust jacket of A Song for the Dark Times, and the plain fact is that the books have only gone from strength to strength.  Rebus doesn’t get stale, because for thirty-odd years Ian Rankin has never phoned it in.

The trick, if we can call it that, is that Rebus isn’t a static character.  He’s thickened, over time, and fleshed out.  He’s also failed, in significant ways.  The chief dynamic in A Song for the Dark Times is his relationship with his daughter, but more to the point, the damage done.  He’s haunted by the very real possibility that he can never make it right.

Then there’s the atmosphere, the environment.  Rebus isn’t a solitary, although he’d give you an argument.  The people around him are no more generic than he is.  The gangster, Big Ger Cafferty, back for another go; Siobahn Clarke, the dogged junior partner, now DI; and Malcolm Fox, first given space in The Complaints.  The departure, literally, in A Song for the Dark Times, has Rebus taken out of Edinburgh and dropped on the windswept coastline of the far North, in sight of the Orkneys.  Not remotely his turf.

There is, yes, a parallel investigation back home, under the watchful eye of Siobhan Clarke, and there are tempting overlaps and odd confluences – how not? – but the engine of the story is Rebus out of his element.  Displaced in the physical world, and on shaky legs, emotionally.  He’s never been demonstrative, our John, but he’s self-aware, and his melancholy here is a sort of bass note, pitched low, not so much heard as felt, as if to name it would give it power.

The story is very much a suitable tangle, the buried past, an uncertain future, a climate of anxiety our only constant in the present.  Rankin remarks in a note at the end that the book was begun before COVID, but the process carried forward into lockdown.  There’s a sense of those dark energies in the novel, a lingering PTSD, something I doubt we’ll shake anytime soon. I don’t think A Song for the Dark Times is meant as a fable, but it can’t help absorbing the oppressive forces of psychic quarantine and illness.