Set in Darkness

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Thanks to Ian Rankin, master of Scottish noir, Edinburgh has become the crime-fiction capital of the world. Edinburgh, which is where Sherlock Holmes’s creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, was born, is Detective Inspector John Rebus’s beat. First introduced in 1987 as a forty-one-year-old Detective Sergeant, the aptly named Rebus has aged and deepened over fourteen years and just as many books. As his hero has grown, so has Rankin’s reputation: in part because of the way his art has advanced a form defined by convention, in part because of interest in all things Scottish, and in part because Rankin’s immensely popular fiction is so in tune with questions of national identity during a transitional period in Scotland’s history.

The fit between nation and narration is especially close in Set in Darkness in which the failed referendum on Scottish devolution of 1979 and the passage of a similar bill in 1997 loom large. This being Rankin, politics is just another outlet for corruption, this time involving rigged real estate deals. The first of the novel’s many corpses is found, appropriately enough, in a building that had once been the residence of the architect of the 1707 Act of Union which joined Scotland to England and that is now being restored for use by members of the new Scottish parliament. The novel’s several mysteries are all related, Rebus (as usual) believes, but the connections are not elementary, as Holmes would say. They are as...

(The entire section is 411 words.)