Welcome to the new Short Story Saturday review slot and the seventh review in this new series (last week was this blog’s first anniversary so I posted a competition word search. This week’s review, partially because it’s been sitting in my reading pile for a while and Ian’s appearing at Cambridge-based WordFest’s Spring Festival next weekend, is of ‘A Good Hanging’ by Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin.
A Good Hanging
‘A Good Hanging’ is the title story from Ian’s 12-piece 1992 collection but located mid-way (sixth) and is, like most of Ian’s stories, set in Edinburgh, featuring his most famous character, Detective Inspector John Rebus.
I’ve only been to Edinburgh once but can imagine the story’s setting (which is always a help) and of course having seen Rebus on-screen I can picture him. Although I’d usually opt for Ken Stott’s harshness rather than John Hannah sensitivity (despite being a huge fan of John) this depiction showed more Hannah than Stott which made for a more subtle read.
History oozes from the first paragraph with a re-enacting of hangings brought to modern day – during the Edinburgh Fringe.
As with many a crime story, we start with a body and apparent suicide. Rebus, assisted by Detective Sergeant Holmes, then starts interviewing ‘suspects’, in this case the victim’s co-performers and crew. Although there is tension between two of the characters, there’s no obvious motive so it is left for the reader to read on whilst debating for themselves.
We then meet the victim’s fiancée who, understandably, is shaken, and through Rebus’ interrogation of her and some of the earlier characters, we are lead to the mystery’s conclusion.
A minor character until the end, the story concludes in DS Holmes’ viewpoint and I enjoyed getting to know him better… and look forward to reading more about him.
Although my favourite line was ‘sinking into a sofa with the consistency of marshmallow’ I was impressed by an unspoken exchange between Holmes (… raised his eyebrows: someone should be with her) and Rebus (…shrugged back: she can handle it on her own).
The writing is simple and enjoyable, and I will certainly be reading the other stories, starting at the beginning with ‘Playback’ then upon a second reading of ‘A Good Hanging’ can look out for the clues lain by a skillful writer such as Ian Rankin.
Biography from Ian’s website:
Born in the Kingdom of Fife in 1960, Ian Rankin graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1982, and then spent three years writing novels when he was supposed to be working towards a PhD in Scottish Literature. His first Rebus novel was published in 1987, and the Rebus books are now translated into twenty-two languages and are bestsellers on several continents.
Ian Rankin has been elected a Hawthornden Fellow, and is also a past winner of the Chandler-Fulbright Award. He is the recipient of four Crime Writers’ Association Dagger Awards including the prestigious Diamond Dagger in 2005. In 2004, Ian won America’s celebrated Edgar Award for ‘Resurrection Men’. He has also been shortlisted for the Edgar and Anthony Awards in the USA, and won Denmark’s Palle Rosenkrantz Prize, the French Grand Prix du Roman Noir and the Deutscher Krimipreis. Ian Rankin is also the recipient of honorary degrees from the universities of Abertay, St Andrews and Edinburgh.
A contributor to BBC2′s ‘Newsnight Review’, he also presented his own TV series, ‘Ian Rankin’s Evil Thoughts’. He recently received the OBE for services to literature, opting to receive the prize in his home city of Edinburgh, where he lives with his partner and two sons.
Ian’s website is
and ‘A Good Hanging & Other Stories’ is available from www.amazon.co.uk , www.borders.co.uk, www.whsmith.co.uk, www.waterstones.co.uk, www.audible.co.uk (for audio download titles only) , www.play.com and www.blackwells.co.uk.
If you’d like to submit your story (50 to 2,500 words) for review take a look here.
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