26 May 2005

Ian Rankin's Scottish Cop Novels

Okay, I admit to having become completely addicted of late to Ian Rankin's John Rebus series of mystery novels. He's a maverick cop based in Edinburgh who works on instinct and is fueled by booze. I am trying to figure out why I haven't been able to stop reading them and have come up with a couple of answers.

First, Rankin is clearly as interested in music as I am, and works song titles and lyrics into his character's consciousness throughout. Many of the references are lost on me, but I'm often inspired to go check out some band he refers to.

Second, his books are well constructed and rich in detail about Scotland's places and peculiarities. I always delight in deconstructing the jargon (only a few bits have eluded me so far but a good example in the novel I'm reading so far is "paraffin budgies" for helicopters) and recognizing all the little Britishisms. They have quite the penchant for abbreviations and sometimes cutesy phrases (recce for reconnoiter, drinkies, walkies, and so forth). He explains Scottish terms for weather and national characteristics (how fat and sugar are the heart of the Scottish diet, and if you add alcohol you have the heart and soul, he says). The regional jargon and the twists and turns of the stories keep my mind sharp, and I enjoy them the same way others enjoy crossword puzzles.

Third, I thought I was just a bit of an Anglophile, having visited London a couple of times, but it turns out I have something of a feel for Britain as a whole. I've been told I have Scotch-Irish roots, so it figures, I suppose, that the atmosphere Rankin describes feels somehow familiar. Despite being a resident of the Western United States for my entire life, I've always felt so at home in Europe, in the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, and France. Germany felt too familiar, and I was not comfortable in Portugal, but I'm sure the latter discomfort was the combination of the language barrier (no, Portuguese is nothing like Spanish, the closest I ever got to a second language) and its being the first European country I ever visited (I was trying way too hard to blend in, which I no longer worry about but still get asked for directions in the native languages). I hope to see more of Britain, despite much of its reputation, not disputed in Rankin's books, as a fairly grim and dreary place.

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