'When Will There Be Good News?' by Kate Atkinson and 'Exit Music' by Ian Rankin
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The history of Scotland is rife with bloodshed, poverty, betrayal and mystery, as Shakespeare reminded us, and things haven't changed much for the 21st-century Scots if these authors are accurate judges.
Kate Atkinson is a relatively new hand at the Scottish crime novel while Ian Rankin has been at it so long that he's decided to wind up his popular Rebus series where it began, in Edinburgh's noisy pubs and dangerous alleys.
By Kate Atkinson
Little, Brown ($24.99)
Both, however, conjure up a country of unhappy and unsympathetic souls whose only pleasures are drink, hurried sex and bags of potato chips, or "crisps."
The title of Atkinson's novel comes with the obvious answer, "Not bloody soon," and it applies to Rankin's latest as well.
By Ian Rankin
Little, Brown ($24.99)
Their respective heroes, with more flaws themselves than a room of Amy Winehouses, bump into depravity, villainy, murder, horrendous accidents and stunted emotional lives as often as the quick showers that dampen the Scottish coast.
Atkinson opens her book with a gruesome account of a young mother and two of her small children killed by a psychopath as another child hides in fear. Of course, as in her previous Jackson Brodie novels, the book comes full circle at the end, with the former cop shining through as he did previously. No more of that, though.
Rankin has decided his rebellious, alcoholic depressive detective, John Rebus, must retire from the Edinburgh police force, but not before stepping over a few battered bodies on the way, including that of a libidinous Russian poet.
He throws a few digs at modern, independently thinking Scotland by including a few rapacious Russian capitalists in bed with shady Scottish bankers and politicians, all of whom are insulted by Rebus as he heads out the door.
Stir in some crude pornographers, wastrel youths and unhappy families and you've got a Scotch blend that leaves a sour aftertaste.
Where Rankin is a conventional crime writer laying out a chronological plot propelled by the usual motives of greed and lust, Atkinson is a puzzle-maker who breaks up her jigsaw picture into its various pieces at the beginning, then fits them all together.
Brodie is at the center, as he was in two earlier installments. Retired from policing after an inheritance, he's become a romantic fool banking on the wrong women when a jarring train derailment connects his past with a present-day kidnapping. He then puts his police talents to use.
A step up in plot mechanics from her last book, "One Good Turn," this Atkinson novel reaches a satisfying conclusion that suggests good news is indeed on its way.
Both Rankin and Atkinson create a Scotland that you will not find in any travel brochures and, if you do visit, I hope you will not encounter in person.
It's still "Braveheart" and "Macbeth" out there among the heather and golf courses.
First Published September 14, 2008 12:00 am