Tartan Noir : Ian Rankin Julie H. Kim in her introduction to Race and Religion in the Postcolonial British Detective Story notices that the detectives today are more and more defined by their ethnicity rather than by Poe’s style of reasoning to solve a mysteries. It is hard to disagree with this statement. One look at book covers seems to confirm this view. Detective stories are now sold as Tartan Noir, Nordic Noir, Emerald Noir. The detectives are no longer defined only by their outstanding crime solving abilities, but through such elements as cultural background and national identity.
Scottish crime fiction has proved one of the most popular and fast-evolving creations of the Scottish imagination in the past 20 years. Scottish crime writers such as Ian Rankin, Denise Mina, Val McDermid and Alexander McCall Smith are recognized not only locally, but have achieved international success. Scottish crime fiction has even acquired its own label “Tartan Noir”. The term “Tartan Noir” is used to describe a wide range of authors and texts. Its characteristics are loosely defined.
Stephen Knight, among others, defines it as the mode of representing “crime, social difficulties nd national aspirations in Scotland”. We will see that despite participating in a globalized popular genre, examples of Scottish crime fiction meaningfully intervene in notions of Scottishness. We will focus particularly on Ian Rankin’s novels as a depiction of Scotland landscape, both the landscape of the city and the use of the crime novel as a vehicle for a socio political autopsy of modern Scotland. I.
How Rankin and his counterparts use American tradiction of the hard boiled detective and make it typically scotish 1 Echoes of Chandler Ian Rankin is a best-selling Scottish crime writer who is best known for his eries of novels featuring DI John Rebus (1987- ) and whose name is inextricably connected with Tartan Noir. Far from simple “whodunits” (Cluedo, investigating a crime and looking for the suspect)the Rebus novels, as they have been called, are characterized by a complex plot, an array of interesting and original characters, a strong focus on the local and an interest in social and political issues.
Genre syncretism, including the hard-boiled detective story, the police procedural, Gothic fiction and the psycho-social novel, is another defining feature of the novels. In this paper am going to examine ow Rankin combines the conventions of the hard-boiled detective story and the police procedural with the themes of the Gothic and psychosocial novel in order to redefine the genre. No reader would fail to classify the Rebus novels as examples of detective fiction. In each novel there is at least one corpse and a murder mystery to be solved.
However, rather than follow in the footsteps of Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie, Rankin uses the themes and conventions that are typical of the American hard-boiled detective novel. First of all, the character of Rebus owes a lot to the clich©s of the American ard-boiled detective. He is a lonely and obsessive individual who drinks and smokes a lot, has trouble sustaining relationships and often faces violence. Rebus is also characterized by his cynicism, and a wisecracking abrasiveness that clearly echoes Chandler?s Marlowe.
The city, focus on the local : However, it is not only in the figure of the detective that we find echoes of the American hard-boiled detective novel. Ran kinas depiction of Edinburgh also brings to mind the “mean streets” of ChandlerL]s L. A The city of the hard- boiled is typically an urban world which epitomizes an empty modernity, orruption, and death. It is a world perverted by evil and crime. Gill Plain calls it “a fragmented landscape of alienation, corruption and decay”.
Accordingly Rankin presents Edinburgh (all his novels are set in Edinburgh) as a place full of crime, violence and corrupt morals “It was everywhere, crime. It was the life-force and the blood and the balls of life: to cheat, to edge; to take that body-swerve at authority, to kill. The higher up you climbed into crime, the more subtly you began to move back towards legitimacy, until a handful of lawyers only could crack open your system, and they were always affordable, lways on hand to be bribed. ” Knots & Crosses Moreover, Edinburgh is presented as the city full of contrasts.
On the surface it is an attractive place with historic monuments and beautiful architecture : this is the side of the city that the tourists see. : “Such a beautiful place, and prosperous. So little crime. They thought to be dangerous a city had to look dangerous. London, Manchester, Liverpool these places were dangerous in their eyes. Not Edinburgh, not this sleepy walking-tour with its monuments and museums. ” this is only a superficial view of the Scottish capital because underneath the ttractive layer lurks menace : “Edinburgh is an easy beat, his colleagues from the west coast would say.
Try Partick [area of Glasgow] for a night and tell me that it’s not. But Rebus knew different. He knew that Edinburgh was all appearances, which made the crime less easy to spot, but no less evident. Edinburgh was a schizophrenic city, the place of Jekyll and Hyde sure enough, the city of Deacon Brodie, of fur coats and no knickers” : draws attention to the fake and showy representation of the city. This dualitu be?een what is seen and what is hidden is what best characterizes the city of the hard boiled. he search for the truth behind a glossy surface is characteristic ofa lot of detective novels and therefore should be seen as a more universal feature of the genre Of detective fiction as a whole however the focus on the local is also characteristic of the urban realism of contemporary British police- procedurals. Martin Priestman points out that “Such localism has been a key element in turning”. attention away from the well-heeled closed society and eccentrically brilliant, detective towards a more realistic notion of crime as something that happens every day, arising from the pressures of a common life.
The strong focus on the local in not only characteristic of Rankin’s fiction, but can be found in the works of other Tartan Noir writers. For example, William McIlvanney in his Laidlaw trilogy explores the city of Glasgow with its different social spheres and the culture of violence. Similarly, Denise Mina’s dystopian Garnethill trilogy investigates into the urban and suburban terrain of the city painting a depressing picture of the city’s institutions and organs of governance.
The mapping of the city is characteristic of many other contemporary Scottish crime writers and one could argue that it is one of the efining features of the genre. II. Influence of Scottish literary tradition, gothic overtones Rebus novels successfully combine two sub-genres Of crime fiction: the hard-boiled detective story and the police procedural, but Rankin also produces a resonance that is particularly Scottish. the novels engagement with the Scottish literary tradition is signaled by the use of the epigraphs that open each novel and sometimes individual chapters.
The novels are also full of intertextual references to major texts of Scottish literature, such as James Hoggs The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde and The Body Snatchers. However, it is first and foremost through his use of Gothic conventions that Rankin places himself within Scottish literary tradition. Rankin himself admits that he has been deeply influenced by the Gothic : In an interview : “In Scotland there was no tradition of the crime novel. The English crime novel was perceived as entertainment, a puzzle.
In Scotland, the tradition I was coming from was much more the Gothic novel” Rankin not only cites Stevenson and Hogg as major inspirations behind his novels but lso claims that his first novel,Knots & Crosses,was not meant to be a crime novel, but rather a re-writing of Jekyll & Hyde However, reviewers failed to pick up on this at the time and the novel was classified as a straightforward detective story’ The fact that Rankin is heavily influenced by the Gothic can be seen straight away in the choice of the titles for his novels Set in Darkness, Dead Souls, Resurrection Men.
Moreover, the atmosphere of mystery and suspense in the novels is reminiscent of that of Gothic fiction. One can also find Gothic echoes in the horror-story-like descriptions of crime scenes. His ovels have features that match the characterization of Gothic as a tale should combine a fearful sense Of inheritance in time with a claustrophobic sense of enclosure in space, these two dimensions reinforcing one another to produce an impression of sickening descent into disintegration.
Which to simplify means that Rebus is constantly haunted by the past. This theme is pursued by Rankin first and foremost in Knots & Crosses, the first novel of the series, in which Rebus is both metaphorically and literally haunted by his past army life. – another gothic feature is the inconsistancy of the character : When Gothic and crime fiction coincide, the protagonist is often racked by guilt, obsession, paranoia, or other psychological disturbances, or his or her identity is misplaced or disguise.
Accordingly, Rebus is an obsessive individual who is often driven by the feelings of guilt : “He wanted a drink, wanted one desperately. But he wasn’t going to have one, not yet. Maybe later, maybe sometime. People died and you couldn’t bring them back. Some of them died violently, cruelly young, without knowing why they’d been chosen. Rebus felt surrounded by loss. All the ghosts…. yelling at him… begging him… shrieking… rom the very beginning Rebus is presented as a dubious hero: somebody who is on the side of right, but also on the side of darkness. In the first novel of the series,Knots & Crosses we find him stealing bread rolls and milk from his local shop. The narrative of the first novel is constructed to lead us to believe that Rebus is the culprit. Constant duality, corruption and dark secrets beneath the veneer of justice and respectability let it be for the city of the “hero”. One could multiply the examples of Gothic tropes in Rebus novels.
This abundance of Gothic themes and motifs is not surprising as crime fiction as been firmly connected with gothic fiction ever since Edgar Allan Poe and his short stories, but at the same time it places Rankin within a Scottish literary tradition as well as within general tendencies found in contemporary Scottish fiction Ill. Investigating the State of Scotland Rebus novels evoke Gothic fiction, but the text is also penetrated by the motifs and conventions of the psychosocial novel. the signs of the psycho- social novel.
First of all, the novel is typically set in contemporary life. Next, it is a piece of fiction which is concerned with the spiritual, emotional and ental lives of the characters rather than with the plot and the action. Moreover, the psycho-social novel demonstrates interest in nation and history. It is also concerned with contemporary’ social problems; hence, there is abundance of social description and the text tries to call people’s attention to the shortcomings of society. All of the above mentioned genre-markers can be found in Rebus novels.
First of all, a lot of text in Rebus novels focuses on Rebus’s memories from the past. This is very prominent from the very beginning of the series. As I have discussed earlier, in Knots & Crosses, Rebus s haunted by the memories Of his past life in the army and consequently a lot of the text focuses on his feelings and emotions. Similarly, in the subsequent novels it is the spiritual life of the detective hero that is given a lot of attention. Throughout the series we learn about Rebusns background, e. . his childhood and teenage years in his hometown of Cardenden, his failed marriage, troubled relationship with his daughter, unsuccessful relationships with other women, as well as his drink problem. Thus Rankin’s fiction does not only focus on the detective’s adventures, but also on his memories, feelings, and emotions. Rebus’s spiritual life becomes an important part of the plot as important as his adventures. Rankin’s novel are as much psychological novel as they are detective novels. Moreover, the strong focus on social, economic and political issues is an underlying interest of all the novels. For example, a few novels paint a grim picture of (real and fictional) housing schemes thus providing commentary on social divisions and exclusions: “Niddrie, Craigmillar, Western Hailies, Muirhouse, Pilton, Granton They all seemed to him like some horrible experiment in social engineering: scientists in white coats sticking families down in this maze or hat, seeing what would happen, how strong they’d have to become to cope, whether or not they’d find the exit….
He lived in an area of Edinburgh where six figures bought you a three-bedroomed flat. It amused him that he could sell up and be suddenly rich… except, of course, that he”d have nowhere to live, and couldn’t afford to move anywhere nicer in the city. He realized he was just about as trapped as anyone in Niddrie or Craigmillar, nicer model of trap that was all. ” Black and Blue The theme of social exclusion is also explored in The Fleshmarket Close, which examines the situation of refugees nd asylum seekers. The novel opens with a murder which looks like a race crime.
The investigation which follows takes Rebus to illegal sublets inhabited by the immigrants as well as Whitemire, a detention center for immigrants, which is not much different from a prison (134). Consequently, the issues of racism and immigration become central to the narrative with Rebus noting gloomily that: “We’re a mongrel nation, always have been. Settled by the Irish, raped and pillaged by the Vikings. When I was a kid, all the chip shops seemed to be run by Italians. Classmates with Polish and Russian surnames… ? He stared into his glass. on’t remember anyone getting stabbed because of ita (Mortal Causes, on the other hand, explores the theme of sectarianism. The novel opens with the discovery of a brutally murdered young man. It emerges that the corpse belongs to the estranged son of “Big Gee Cafferty, Billy Cunningham,who has been working for an underground Scottish nationalist group called the “Sword and Shield”- a terrorist organization with links to Northern Ireland. The plot provides a springboard for the discussion of the issues connected with nationalism and the Catholic-Protestant sectarian ivide in Scotland.
He presents those issues as paramount to the understanding of Scottish soc. Even Rebus has been influenced by this aspect Of Scottish tradition and history, having served in the armed forces Of Nothern Ireland. ) Other novels touch upon such themes as internal police politics and corruption in high places, the lack of coherent Scottish identity, the theme of devolution, or Scotland’s involvement in global politics among other thing. Rankin is clearly interested in addressing major social issues in his police novels, especially as they figure within a Scottish political and cultural context.
Rankin uses the formula of detective novel as a vehicle for examining” the state of Scotland” This is discussed, among others, by Duncan Petrie in Contemporary Scottish Fictions By utilizing the framework of the detective genre, Rankin has created a vast canvas upon which broad and challenging themes and ideas have been subsequently elaborated and developed to great effect while some of the early novels featured lone killers and psychopaths, the more ambitious additions have Rebus uncovering entrenched structures of organized criminal activity or institutional corruption.
This in turn raises fundamental, social, psychological, olitical and economic questions pertinent to the state of contemporary Scotland, and arguably Rankin’s real motivation as a writer. This interest in Scottish issues is, however, not incidental and is not characteristic only of RankinOs crimefiction, but is a defining feature of all Scottish crime writing.
Plain argues this forcefully in “Concepts of Corruption: Crime Fiction and the Scottish State : Crime writing has been a vibrant dimension of Scottish literary culture since the 1980’s, when a range of writers adopted the genre as a means of exploring systemic rather than individual criminality. The alienated figure of the detective was a trope well suited to the articulation of opposition to Thatcherism, and from these polemical roots crime fiction developed into an ideal formula for investigating the state of Scotland.
We can argue that the Tartan noir genre is to scottish writers trying to dissect and invent modern Scotland, a way of re-examining the past, and the past is the place where Scotland, a country obsessed with re-examining itself, can view itself whole, vibrant, mythic. When myth becomes channelled through the splintered prism of the present, however [ … l what emerges can only be something distorted and dual.