Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Anyone who has read Ian Rankin’s many novels, particularly involving John Rebus and Siobhan Clarke, will know what a wonderful writer Rankin is. We are used to the shenanigans that Rebus gets up to and his dislike of bureaucracy. We enjoy a good stoush when Rebus goes up against his superiors, knowing that the officers concerned, for one reason or another, deserve the ordure dumped on them. We enjoy the painstaking work of Siobhan Clarke, recognising her dedication and sympathising with her in her attempts to minimise the trouble that Rebus has caused for himself. But, above all, we recognise the sophisticated creation of plot and development, the essential rightness of the setting and the scrupulous focus on timing.
Without an author’s name most people would be hard pressed to identify the author of Westwind. Rankin has a style, a way of maintaining momentum in a story that we’ve all become accustomed to. It’s not a matter of confusing Bach with Handel – that’s an error between similar styles. In the case of Westwind we’re in the realm of unfamiliarity. Westwind is 1990s fiction, remarkably different from that which the 2019 crop of writers produces.
In the present volume a small lie is given to explain unusual activity, and in turn to hide what is serious, the lies become bigger – the consequences more appalling. The book becomes a mystery that slowly unravels at the direction of the author. There are nasty characters, none more so than the villainous Harry, there are inhabitants of the plot who are never what they seem, and there are good guys who appear to be so and, hey, remain so! There is even a heroine who sticks by her man.
I might describe the book in a light fashion but that does not mean that the book should not be taken seriously. It is a book whose quality many writers achieve but only at their mature best. Rankin wrote this as a neophyte. He went on, as his readers know, to produce much better work. Rankin explains the thirty year hiatus between writing the book and its publication in an introduction that is as modern as today.
One final point is this: the Rebus novels have never been noteworthy for the creativity of their covers. I have Saints of the Shadow Bible and Rather Be the Devil beside me as I write. If Rankin’s response to his graphic artist had been, “Try Harder”, I would have agreed with him. Maybe it’s something to do with being Scottish. Westwind’s cover appeals, not!
Westwind is a good read, well worth its price. It’s of historical interest and a good book to have on your shelves.
By Ian Rankin