Was Fleshmarket Close vintage Rankin? I was impressed by his first book Knots and Crosses years ago, but having read several other books by Rankin since, I expect it to be of a certain quality. It just holds up. Could he have done the same in less than 400 pages? I think so. Does anyone else think there were some extraneous characters? Too many to care about some of them? I counted 18 characters introduced in the first 33 pages and 65 in all. I wonder why he needed so many. Red herrings? Did we really need 3 hairdresser friends? Did the story really require Rory Allan and Danny Watling? Or Cater’s buddy? What purpose did Jenny Lennox serve?
Was it a good mystery? Well, there were multiple mysteries- the skeleton mystery and the Ishbel mystery and the murder of Stef mystery. And of course HOW these tie together is the story. I wasn’t sure where the focus was. I didn’t mind that too much. It perhaps dulled the impact of the ending. There was not one satisfying resolution but a rather slow tying up of loose ends.
Is it good social commentary? It did present some of the complexity of the “immigrant” and “asylum” issue in Scotland. No one wins. The fleshmarket is there and where there is demand there will be suppliers. Because this is an unplanned influx there is no system to cope with them. Desperation makes minimal living conditions a situation asylum seekers and illegals accept opening opportunities for further exploitation. Police are charged with stopping smuggling and unlawful exploitation: this alone may not be in the interests of asylum seekers or illegals, then add in the unsympathetic attitude of many in the force. Rankin, through his characters, tries to cover the range of attitudes from downright racist to idealistic compassion. The tensions set up in the community can be felt. Rankin is careful not to stereotype Felix Storey the black investigator who has his own biases. Oddly, Mo Dirwan, who is more stereotyped in a way, comes over as a truer, more human, character than Felix. Caro Quinn, the protesting idealist, appeals to Rebus but ultimately does not satisfy. Rebus has compassion but recognises certain hard realities and limitations. DC Siobhan Clarke needn't have worried.
Enough flesh to chew on in our Lit Wits group I would say.
Note: What is Fleshmarket Close here in Canada (and in the UK) is Fleshmarket Alley in New York. Someone who has been there has assured me there is a real Fleshmarket Close in Edinburgh. I doubt there is an Alley there of that name.