Reading Knots and Crosses from Ian Rankin is a trip into the underbelly of Edinburgh, Scotland. Inspector John Rebus is a troubled man, assigned to the team investigating a series of abductions. Not just any abductions, though. Someone is taking young girls, about the age of Rebus’s own daughter. And that’s all the more difficult for Rebus because he and the girl’s mother are currently separated.

Knots and Crosses is not a fun romp in the world of kilts and tartans. In fact, there’s nary a Highlander about. This is a story that could have occurred in any large city around the world. But Rankin adds a flavor of Scotland, and the audiobook narrator includes the proper Scottish burr. Still, it’s not exactly a story you want to magically transport into.

Rebus is a suitably flawed hero. He never shies away from his whiskey, and doesn’t hesitate to bed an interested woman. But he’s a bit slow on the uptake, as far as detective skills go. For his part, Rankin gives away some details of the villain. I was on track straightaway. Unknotting the mystery takes just enough time, though.

My conclusions

This book is just over 20 years old—a long-ago backlist bump choice. I chose it because it fits a genre called Tartan Noir, and fulfills a reading challenge prompt for me. On the whole, it was an absorbing and fast-paced read. I easily finished in just a few days.

On the other hand, I wished for more complexity. This feels akin to Sue Grafton’s writing rather than Stieg Larsson’s. The characters are slightly dimensional, but not complicated. Even Rebus’s flaws are somewhat predictable. I don’t mind a gruesome murder mystery, and this didn’t seem even close to that level of description. So if you’re a bit squeamish and want to explore this genre, Rankin is a better choice than Val McDermid, for example.

Overall, I liked Rankin’s writing style and the John Rebus character. Don’t be surprised if I read and review another book in the series this year.

Pair with McDermid’s nonfiction book, Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA, and More Tell Us About Crime. Or any of the authors I already mentioned.