On a balmy summer night in Edinburgh, the filth razes an illicit brothel in a well-to-do area. Johns and working girls alike are piled into the back of a police car to be given a fine and a stern talking to, with one exception. One of the men coming out of the building is MP Gregor Jack. He is well-liked by his constituents and respected by his peers, but the press are waiting outside and he is proverbially, if not literally, caught with his pants down so when Jack’s wife Elizabeth goes AWOL for a few days, nobody is surprised. But then she turns up dead, and suddenly things are looking a lot less rosy…
Strip Jack is the fourth book in Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels and for me, part of the fun is seeing Rankin find his voice as a novelist. That does, however, mean that the first few installments are widely divergent. Sometimes they’re bleak, sometimes almost cartoonish. Rebus, too, seems to fluctuate; for instance, he’s deeply religious in earlier installments but seems to have forgotten all about that by now. Likewise, there’s a brother that he’s allegedly close to yet who’s never mentioned after the first book or so. I get it; sometimes you come up with something that you think will work, but then it doesn’t and you can’t go back so instead, you ignore it. I just wish he’d found a less clumsy way to deal with it. Rebus does become less insufferable as the series progresses; he’s still a grouchy know-it-all but he seems a bit less callous, though in all fairness, his attitude to women leaves a lot to be desired (he usually ends one book head over heels in love with one but it’s petered out by the start of the next one, though this one breaks tradition). We’ll blame it on the fact that it was the Nineties.
I did enjoy the vibe this book gives off when it comes to the bon ton that Elizabeth belongs to. It’s pretty much what you expect: Elizabeth is from a well-known and exceedingly wealthy family and her marriage to Jack seems to be more of a business arrangement; he swans around the country talking to the Great Unwashed while she toodles off to her family’s country house for drug-fuelled orgies with her equally snobby friends. They, of course, leave the place a pigsty because they assume a squad of quietly anonymous staffers will clean up the mess for them. I’m not sure how realistic that all is but hey, don’t we all love to indulge in seeing our prejudices pan out with such sardonic vigor?
The mystery itself is fairly solid, too, though a little convoluted, and Jack himself as a character is grating in all his boyish sincerity. It reads a little surreal in light of the current political landscape, but then again this book was published before Tony Blair was a thing, so go figure.
I like these books, but so far I’ve never liked them enough to consider reading the entire series; I test-drove the first couple of installments partly out of curiosity and partly because I was hoping to find a new series that I enjoyed enough to binge them all. I’m not quite at that point yet, but I am curious to see where it’ll take me.