£15 on Amazon.
Is it a comforting or precarious feeling, being the UK's number one best-selling male crime writer? Only Ian Rankin could answer that, but it's clear that the author is not content to rest on his laurels, and is always prepared to reinvigorate his excellent Inspector Rebus novels whenever a sense of d? vu starts to creep in. And now we have Rankin's The Flood, a reissue of his first, unremarked novel. Was Rankin wise to sanction the re-release of this early book? After all, when we were given the chance to read again all the novels of Martin Cruz Smith had written before his groundbreaking Gorky Park, it was a sobering experience -- as the latter novel was a quantum leap in achievement beyond the previous books. Not so with The Flood: while this darkly disquieting novel caused ripples on its first publication, its reappearance after 20 years is something of a cause for celebration. Rankin began the novel as a 25-year-old student, and its publication by a small university publishing house (with a modest print run) escaped any critical attention. It took the atmospheric and gritty Rebus novels for us to see just how talented Rankin was, and it's a fascinating experience to re-encounter this tyro work.
The Flood is not a crime novel. Mary Miller is an alienated young woman. As a child, she had had an accident involving a flood of chemical discharges from the local coal mine -- she had survived, badly injured, but sympathy for her plight evaporated when the man who was responsible for the accident met his death in a mining accident shortly after. The pious community she lives in views her with superstitious dread. Time passes, and she gives birth to an illegitimate son, Sandy. Her unsatisfactory love affair with a teacher is going nowhere, and her son has started a relationship with a homeless girl. But both Sandy and his mother have to confront the past, and both find their lives will be changed by elemental forces -- notably the flood of the title.
As the above conveys, this is sombre stuff, but that won't put off Rankin aficionados, who look for the dark and disturbing in his work. While the book is (inevitably) not as fully achieved as his later work, there are many fascinating pre-echoes of the off-kilter psychology that is Rankins stock-in-trade, and any rough edges of the narrative are more than offset by the power of the already highly individual vision on offer here.
'A must for lovers of Rankin' GOOD BOOK GUIDE 'Full of secrets and revelations, with an atmospheric sense of time and place, it has Rankin's signature darkness' CHOICE 'It wouldn't take a Rebus to sleuth out the telltale signs of a talent in the making' -- Chris Power THE TIMES
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