Last year, one of Scotland's most famous current authors, Ian Rankin, added his considerable talents to the Quick Reads collection by penning this enjoyable crime drama short story to their ranks. Usually recognised or work involving Detective Inspector Rebus, Rankin's short story went along similar lines of crooks and cops and a crime scene, but without the twists and turns that a reader usually has to wait for.
We first meet Gravy (so called because he works in a graveyard), a rather simple 30 year old, just as he is closing up for the day. Along comes his friend Benjy, with a gunshot wound and a bag containing a ridiculous sum of money and a gun. He asks Gravy to hide it, just before he dies. This sparks off a series of events involving Gravy, the police, the local big gangster, and a really, really lucky woman on the run.
Rankin's characters are, as ever, brilliantly worked out. We get snippets of each of them throughout the book, and thus the characterisation is done in stages, with him letting us formulate our own mental images of them just as much as he gives his input. The confusion and lack of trust between them all is a marvel to behold and very well written indeed.
The story, though, just didn't cut it for me. Perhaps I am making too much of a comparison between this and his other work that I have read. Perhaps it's because I was looking for the Rebus and Big Ger Cafferty in this story when I shouldn't have been. Either way, when you have read a lot of an author's works, it's hard to not draw comparison, and I think the advantage I have had with many of the short stories I have read of late is that they have been authors who, by and large, I have been unfamiliar with.
There are no twists and turns in this one, and there are no secrets withheld from the beginning, with revelations later on. This is a simple case of a botched job, people dying, and just a tale unfolding, with us the witnesses to all characters as they go about their actions. We see the police slowly but surely gathering the facts and drawing the conclusions, we see the crooks' growing paranoia and lack of trust for each other, as they are unaware of the missing and now dead Benjy. We are also aware of Gravy and his new acquaintance Celine, and with the money and the gun, they are definitely the target and what seems like the suggested final meeting point of the story.
It all meanders gently to the conclusion, and despite it being a good read and one I would definitely recommend, it doesn't live up to Rankin's usual standards, for me. There are flashes of Rebus, and one cop is actually described exactly as Rebus would be, an ageing detective who hasn't achieved the rank he's capable of due to making enemies and stepping on toes, not toeing the party line. This was nice to see.
So, overall, I was a bit disappointed, I'm afraid. However, it is still a good story and a short story I highly recommend reading, and I suppose my disappointment is more a testament to how good his work usually is. It comes in at just over 100 pages long, and retails for £1.99, as do all Quick Reads from that year. Recommended, but don't expect his usual intricacies.