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A Question of Blood
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Top reviews from the United States
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The main plot concerns the shooting of three students at a private school and the suicide of the alleged gunman. Two of the students are killed by shots through the head. The third is wounded and is the only witness. It appears a cut and dried case of a murder-suicide by an intruder into the school, but their are questions about motive. The intruder is a former member of the Special Air Service (SAS), and the appearance of two military investigators compounds matters. What are they looking for? There are questions of Post Combat Stress Syndrome.
There is a subplot about charges against DI John Rebus, accused of arson and murder. There is a subplot concerning drug smuggling (by some individuals who do dumb things, but criminals often get caught tripping over their own feet). There is a subplot about teenage gangs. Matters are brought up about John's relatives, and incidents in his past life including his military service. Various strange characters wander through the plot. As the plot progresses, events tie together various people and events.
The Epilogue raises the question of whether well placed people can be convicted of crimes, especially when they have the funds to hire top-of-the-line legal assistance.
The plot involves an apparently irrational shooting in a private school in a town that is now a suburb of Edinburgh -- a former commando has apparently killed two youths, wounded another, and killed himself, for no discernible reason. The question for the police is not who but why. Hard-drinking and highly independent DI Rebus gets involved, although he is handicapped by having two scalded hands and an investigation against him underway (did he kill the scoundrel who burned to death in a fire about the same time as Rebus's burns? Rebus was the last person seen with him.) Rebus takes Siobhan Clarke along to take notes. As usual, Rebus is trying to get to the truth despite his troubled relationships with colleagues, superiors, news reporters, and army investigators. The book involves a lot of conversations with a lot of people, and Rebus is drinking so much it's amazing that none of his superiors have noticed that he's an alcoholic. (I can't believe that level of drinking is considered normal, even in Scotland!)
I love Rebus, and I love this series. Some of the books in the series are better than others, and I found this one of the better ones. I can't say I was totally surprised by the ending, but in Rankin's books, that's really not the point or the main pleasure -- these have the literary quality of novels and I read them as such.
Top reviews from other countries
There was a certain poignancy about re-reading this novel which opens with the immediate aftermath of a gunman entering a prestigious private school and killing two pupils and wounding another before turning his weapon on himself as news broke of yet another mass-shooting on an American campus, this time in Roseburg, Oregon. On the other hand, that is now such a frequent occurrence that almost any time I might have revisited this novel would have clashed with such an outrage.
The gunman was identified as Lee Herdman, a readily-recognised figure around South Queensferry where he owned a motor boat and gave water skiing lessons and took tourists for trips around the various islets in the Firth of Forth at breakneck speed. After news of the killings broke it very soon emerged that Herdman was an ex-soldier and had, in fact, been a member of the SAS. Very soon the killings are being described as a combat veteran 'losing his marbles' or 'throwing a maddie'.
It is not Rebus's case but he is pressed to assist the investigation in view of his own experiences in the army, and his (failed) attempt many years before to join the SAS. He is, however, beset with other problems. His hands have been hideously scalded, leaving him virtually helpless and unable to perform even the simplest of manual tasks. Meanwhile, a small-time criminal who had been stalking Rebus's colleague Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke and making her life a misery, is found burnt to death in his own home, having been seen drinking with Rebus earlier that evening. It doesn't take the senior management team at Lothian and Borders Police long to add two and two together, though it is not clear whether they are making four or five. In the meantime, he and Clarke are helping out with the school killing, uncovering a morass of tensions within the school and among the pupils' families.
This novel features all of Rankin's customary skill. The descriptions of Edinburgh are as clear and haunting as ever, and the two glorious bridges seem to loom over South Queensferry in a menacing way. There are several subplots, all of which are dextrously managed, and the characters are as plausible as ever.
Great story that runs at a good pace throughout, as usual throwing up the odd clue to the reader and also the twist and turn you expect from a Rebus tale.
Loved it can’t wait to start the next in the series.