Having recently read Helen Dunmore’s obituary, and having liked some of her work I had read before (most recently I remember ‘Darkness in Zennor’ as being particularly interesting), I perused what else she had written and ordered ‘The Siege’ and ‘The Betrayal’ from our excellent local bookshop ( The Bookshop Liskeard rather unimaginative, like our Warwick Books and Kenilworth Books!). I was not disappointed and they kept me going over our holidays and our now being read by F. ‘The Siege’ is a family story set during the terrible siege of Leningrad, and evokes its harrowing events. However, as a Historian, I have to say it is nothing like as visceral as Antony Beevor’s masterly work on ‘Stalingrad’. You just can’t beat the real thing ( one only has to think of Juliet Barker’s splendid ‘Agincourt’ compared with novelist Bernard Cornwall’s ‘Azincourt’….the former wins hands down in every respect – factual base, atmosphere, excitement etc). Nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed the read and turned immediately to the follow-on ‘The Betrayal’. This was in many ways the more powerful and frightening book. Taking the characters of its prequel and taking their story through post-war Stalinist Russia, it centres around Andrei as a young hospital doctor who is asked to treat the seriously ill child of a senior secret police officer. As the child fails to recover, so the lives of the people involved spiral out of control. Gripping is the one word I would use, and if asked to choose another – frightening. The events are too believable. An extremely good piece of writing.
Edinburgh does have a dark side (as we know from Trainspotting), and Ian Rankin has long dealed with the seamier side of this great city. Rebus is a much loved character, but how he gets away with interfering so much in police business when retired goodness knows. That part at least doesn’t seem at all plausible. However, with Rebus, Edinburgh as the background, and a cast of characters we know, and some introductions, Rankin can’t go far wrong. ‘Rather Be The Devil’ is what we have come to expect….a page-turner, lots of extremely witty one-liners, a convoluted plot, lots of human interest….therefore great bed-time reading. My main criticism doesn’t go away…the continual referencing to Rankin’s own choice of music, all pulled in in a strongly contrived way (even the title in this case) really grates. Never mind I’ll put up with it…I’m sure there’s a lot more Rebus and Fox to come.
It was reported today that Amazon UK had increased turnover substantially yet again, and halved their tax bill. Our petition (and subsequent debate in Parliament) was a small contribution to opening the debate about this issue. Please support your local bookshops….remember (as with pubs and much else too) Use It Or Lose It!