Strip Jack by Ian Rankin

 Strip Jack cover

Strip Jack by the Scottish (Fife) author Ian Rankin is the fourth book in his long Rebus series which follows Detective Inspector John Rebus through his whole career in the Lothian police force, based in Edinburgh. I have read quite a few of the books and it would have been sensible to read them in order mainly for the personal life of Rebus, although not crucial I think.

Strip Jack was first published in 1992, it’s quite shocking to think that that is now 28 years ago, so this book now has the feel of vintage crime, no mobile phones or internet, it adds to the charm.

The book begins with a police raid on an up-market brothel in one of the Georgian terraces in Edinburgh’s New Town, (believe me – there is one!) One of the clients caught up in the raid happens to be the popular local Member of Parliament Gregor Jack. The ‘gentlemen’ of the press are hanging around the brothel doorway and it dawns on Rebus that they must have had a tip off from someone, he suspects that the MP is the victim of a set up.

Gregor Jack’s wife Elizabeth is from a local wealthy family and she’s more than a bit wild, she’s a party animal, with drink and drugs involved. She spends a lot of time away from home, sometimes at her home in the Highlands, so when she disappears it’s assumed that she has gone there in high dudgeon after having seen her husband’s face all over the newspapers.

Gregor Jack’s staff and close friends that he has known since childhood rally round to protect him, but his friends are not what they seem to be on the surface.

I really liked this one although I do think that the books get even better as the series progresses.

At the back of my copy of the book there is a map of Edinburgh New Town which will be of use to people who don’t know the city, but if you do know the area part of the charm of these books is being able to visualise all the locations. However, if you’re really keen you can go onto Google Street to have a wee ‘walk’ around and see for yourself.

Tooth and Nail by Ian Rankin

This book is unusual for a Rebus one in that it’s set mainly in London as Rebus has been ordered down there to help them as they have a serial killer to deal with. Apparently Rebus is regarded as an expert when it comes to tracking down serial murderers. But he doesn’t see himself as an expert and isn’t happy about being there. As you can imagine he isn’t made welcome by the Met who hate the idea of a Scot knowing more than they do about anything.

I actually did enjoy this one although not so much for the plot, which wasn’t great, but I liked the way Rankin portrayed the Londoners. Everyone that Rebus was introduced to was ‘the best in his field’ this is so true to life in London, I just found it so funny, Rankin certainly captures the attitudes of Londoners who tend to view Scots with disdain, if not horror, well they used to anyway, despite the fact that most of them are clueless about life beyond the Watford Gap as they can’t see beyond London.

For a supposedly hard-bitten cop who was in the SAS Rebus does blush an awful lot, it must be that Presyterian upbringing coming through!

This was set in 1992 and it did seem quite dated but as he was staying in a hotel near Shaftesbury Avenue and that’s a bit of London which I actually know it wasn’t too much of a disappointment that the setting wasn’t the usual Edinburgh one, it’s not that I’m getting really parochial in my old age – I just like being able to imagine the setting properly whether it’s somewhere in Scotland, the Cotswolds or Cornwall, apparently this is the only Rebus book with a London setting.

The Hanging Garden by Ian Rankin

This book was first published in 1998. I must say that I didn’t enjoy this one as much as Let It Bleed. It’s a very personal storyline for DI John Rebus with his daughter being knocked down in a hit and run incident. Is it his fault given that he is involved with gangland warfare on the streets of Edinburgh?

There is also the possibility that a WWII Nazi war criminal is living in Rebus’s patch. Coupled with the fact that there are also foreign gang members from Japan and Chechnia and a young woman who is being forced to work as a prostitute in the mix too – there’s definitely a lot going on.

But somehow this one wasn’t a page turner for me although I did carry on to the end. I think I’m going to give Rebus a bit of a rest for the moment and my bedtime read is going to be Margery Allingham’s The Tiger in the Smoke, which is supposed to be her best.

Black and Blue by Ian Rankin

The blurb on the back of this book says: Rebus is juggling four cases trying to nail one killer – who just might lead back to the infamous Bible John. And he’s doing it under the scrutiny of an internal inquiry led by a man he has just accused of taking backhanders from Glasgow’s Mr Big.

I enjoyed this one too, it takes us away from Edinburgh which is Rebus’s comfort zone and has him travelling over to Glasgow and up to Aberdeen and even over to Shetland and on to an oil rig. The storyline involves the oil industry and a murderer who is going by the name of Johnny Bible, a copycat killer who is styling himself on Bible John who was a real murderer in the Glasgow area in the late 1960s. He was never caught and just ‘disappeared’ making most people believe that he had died.

Black and Blue was published in 1997 and Ian Rankin couldn’t have known that nearly 20 years later a murderer called Peter Tobin was going to kill a young Polish woman whom he knew through their Roman Catholic church – he buried her under the church floor and during the police investigations they realised that he had links to areas where young women had disapperared. Men in their 70s don’t suddenly begin a career in murder.

Tobin had moved to England and had lived at numerous locations, in the garden of one house they found the body of a Scottish teenager who had been abducted from a bus station 20 odd years before. Tobin still had a distinctive bracelet which she had worn and her father was able to identify, and what is even scarier is that Tobin apparently had lots of pieces of women’s jewellery, but he isn’t saying who it all belonged to. The body of another young woman was found at another house he had once lived in and he has been convicted of those murders too. However he claims to have killed 48 women, but won’t give any details. But there is one woman who miraculously survived a Bible John attack, and having seen photographs of Tobin which were taken in the 1960s – she is sure that Tobin is the man who attacked her and left her for dead.

The police photofit picture of Bible John was in every train when I was a 10-12 year old and it was very similar to photographs of Tobin so it would seem that Bible John didn’t die but just carried on killing in different places until he was caught by the Glasgow police as an old man.

So back to the book, Black and Blue was just a bit strange because of the recent developments in the Bible John case and also the fact that Rebus goes ‘on the wagon’ towards the end of the book and starts drinking orange juice, so no Irn Bru was required by me!