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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Knots and Crosses

Reviewed: February 21, 2009
By: Ian Rankin
Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur
272 pages, $13.95

So, after last week’s confession I went and dug out my copy of Rebus: The Early Years, and read the first mystery in the series one morning. The book has remained in print since 1987, is available in several different presentations and hasn’t dated very badly at all.

Detective Inspector John Rebus seems cut from the template for moody British policemen when we meet him. He has a failed marriage, a daughter that he gets to spend a little bit of time with (and doesn’t understand) and a career which seems to be stalled. This book appeared in the same year as Gallows View, the first of Peter Robinson’s Ian Banks mysteries, so it’s unlikely that either man influenced the other in their creative processes.

Rebus is ex-army, a former member of the SAS, actually, and whatever happened to him during that stretch has stayed with him, leaving him with nightmares and in a near permanent state of depression. He doesn’t get on well with his only brother, Michael, either, but that relationship is strained by more than just family history, as we discover. At the office, he gets the job done, but he has no flair for self promotion, has missed chances for advancement and is not popular.

There has been a series of killings. Two girls have been strangled. Most of the usual motives don’t seem to apply and the police are without much in the way of clues. What no one, included Rebus, realizes is that he has been receiving clues regularly: crank mail containing knots and crosses which relate to a period of his life he has repressed, and which utimately lead to the solution. We’re most of the way through the book before this becomes clear and it moves pretty quickly after that.

While depressing in tone, the novel was a good, fast read.

By the way. I goofed last week. The final book in the Rebus series is called Exit Music, not Exit Wounds.

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