Review

Death Is Not the End: A Novella (Inspector Rebus Mysteries)

by Ian Rankin



There is a pleasantly unexpected tension to this novella, I
realized as I got a few pages into it, which has to do with a
slightly confusing publishing history. I did something I never do:
I stopped and went to the end, looking for some kind of author's
note. Aha! There it was, an Afterword...which, alas, did not quite
clear up the confusion. Though published here in June 2000, well
after Rankin's stunning full-length novel DEAD SOULS, this novella
was written first. When it was published in England and Scotland, I
do not know.

Even if Rankin's Afterword had not mentioned it (and if I hadn't
peeked), on the strength of internal evidence I would have been
willing to wager --- a wager seems appropriate, as much of the
novella's plot has to go with gambling --- that this little book
came first into the author's mind and hand, before DEAD SOULS.
Thus, for a true Rankin fan (and Oh, I am, I am!), DEATH IS NOT THE
END is a fabulous opportunity to watch a master craftsman's mind at
work; to see how the one short book evoked themes and characters
that were too big and too important to be allowed to die at the end
of just 73 pages. If the true Rankin fan happens to also write
books herself (and I do), it's doubly an honor and a treat to read
these pages and learn from them.  

Having read DEAD SOULS first does somewhat detract. If you are
relatively new to Rankin and have not read either of the two, I'd
suggest you start with DEATH IS NOT THE END and then go on to DEAD
SOULS, noticing as you do how the echoes call to one another from
book to book. As for me, I intend to reread DEAD SOULS immediately,
and I'll consider it time well spent.

The theme here is the significance of loss in one's life --- any
kind of loss, but particularly the loss of a person --- to death,
or to the end of a relationship, or perhaps worst of all, to a
simple disappearance without explanation. Inevitably that sense of
loss becomes heavier and heavier as one grows older and the losses
pile up. Inextricably entwined with loss is memory, for the
realization of the one is dependent upon the evocation of the
other.

From there, if I may extrapolate, arises the question of psychic
pain, pain of the human soul. Always the question hovering around
Inspector John Rebus: How much pain and darkness can a human being
bear and remain sane? How much can he take and still stand on two
feet, do his job, get up in the morning, get through the days? Not
to mention the nights, when he often sits in the dark, never going
to bed at all. If Rebus could give up his memories, then the pain
would be less to bear --- we learn that in this novella, in which
for the first time Ian Rankin lets us into Rebus's private life,
into his past and the later years of his childhood, when there were
times that were almost, almost happy. If one gives up memory to
lessen pain, then the good memories will be gone along with the
bad. And that's a problem.

A boy goes missing: the boy is the son of Rebus's childhood friend
Brian "Barney" Mee, who still lives in the old hometown in County
Fife, where Rebus seldom goes (because too many memories live
there), and where his policeman's jurisdiction does not extend. But
Brian asks for help and John responds. He goes back to the old
hometown to find that Mee has married Janice, a girl John could
have loved, who might have loved him; now she's a woman who is
still, perhaps even more, attractive and attracted. At the same
time, Superintendent "Farmer" Watson asks Inspector Rebus for a
birthday present: the capture of an old enemy who has escaped one
too many times to suit the Farmer.

The two cases rub up against each other, but not so neatly that
Rebus can work on them together. There are conflicts. They rub and
irritate, as the renewal of old friendships rubs and irritates and
makes an itch that finally must be scratched. It's an intense,
involving story that you can read easily in an evening --- and a
good thing too, because once you've started you won't want to put
it down.  

After you've finished DEATH IS NOT THE END, go on and read DEAD
SOULS, and see how Ian Rankin has taken the themes and characters
and ideas that must have haunted him in the tight compression of a
novella structure and developed them into one of his very best
books. It is no exaggeration, in fact, to say that DEAD SOULS is
one of the finest crime novels of our time.

Reviewed by Dianne Day on January 21, 2011

Death Is Not the End: A Novella (Inspector Rebus Mysteries)
by Ian Rankin

  • Publication Date: June 7, 2000
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 031226142X
  • ISBN-13: 9780312261429