Serial Detectives

July 24, 2014

When I was a very little boy I had an uncle who was essentially bed-ridden for many years for reasons that I am still unclear about. There was no TV in those days for working class families and so my uncle used to pass the time reading.  He had an enormous collection of detective novels.  My parents used to visit him and my aunt one evening every week to play cards.  While they did that, I took my pick of his library of cheap paperbacks.  Thus it was that, before I was nine or ten, I had read everything that Agatha Christie had written.

HardBoiledDetectiveStill using my uncle’s collection, I worked my way through all of Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries, Simenon’s Maigret, Ellery Queen and who knows what else by the time I was in my early teens. This early background set me up on two reading habits: enjoying detective stories and reading the entire oeuvre of an author.

As time went on, I read my way through all the American “hard boiled” detective novels of Hammett, Chandler, and the odd world of Damon Runyon.  This led me to many American magazines with fabulous stories. Later, I discovered the queen of detective writers, P.D. James, and swallowed everything whole.  Since then, I have devoured the entire body of work by Vancouver’s own Laurence Gough, and the impeccable Aurelio Zen series by the late Michael Dibdin, and who knows how many more.

I have also, of course, watched endless detective series on TV, including the Jack Frost and Rebus series.  Which is the catalyst for this post, really.

One of the advantages of spending time in hospital is the opportunity to just lay back and read. On this occasion, I had a few books by Ian Rankin to get through.  Rankin is the author of the Inspector Rebus series about an unconventional police detective in Edinburgh.  I had seen all of the TV episodes featuring the cop but had not read any of the novels.

I enjoyed the books though I wouldn’t put them up there with the best.  What was interesting to me was that throughout the two novels (and a collection of short stories), I kept seeing the English Inspector Jack Frost acting out the character rather than the very Scottish Rebus.  Once again, I haven’t read any of R.D. Wingfield’s Frost novels but I have seen all 42 TV episodes, often more than once.  I am not in any way suggesting anything untoward in Rankin’s writing (copying Wingfield, for instance) but that the characters are just so similar.

I’m not sure I’ll complete the entire Rankin series, at least not yet.