Summary and book reviews of A Question of Blood by Ian Rankin

A Question of Blood

An Inspector Rebus Novel

By Ian Rankin

A Question of Blood
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Feb 2004,
    416 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2005,
    544 pages.

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Book Summary

There is no mystery. Lee Herdman stormed into a private school just north of Edinburgh and killed two boys. He was a loner, a creep, an army veteran who got kicks out of terrifying local teenagers on his speedboat - just the sort of shady character to commit a random and heinous crime. It's a simple case of a man gone mad.

But how random were the killings at Port Edgar Academy? Why did Herdman open fire only in the student lounge, bypassing the swarm of students outside the school? What exactly was his relationship with the school's misfits? Why are military detectives snooping around the murder scene? And why is the only survivor of the attack, recuperating in the hospital, reluctant to talk?

There is indeed a mystery - only this time, it's why.

When Detective Inspector John Rebus is called out of his jurisdiction to investigate the killings, he is relieved to have the distraction. His entire precinct is abuzz with rumors of his involvement in the death of Martin Fairstone, an ex con who had been menacing Rebus's partner, Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke.

For weeks Fairstone tormented Siobhan: followed her home, left her cryptic messages, even threatened violence. But her woes don't end when Fairstone dies in a fire that consumes his apartment. Now Siobhan has a new worry - the morning after Fairstone's body is found, Rebus appears with bandages on his severely burned hands. No one, not even Siobhan, can ignore the coincidence.

Immersing himself in the Port Edgar killings does little to help Rebus avoid everyone's suspicion, but an unexpected family tie draws him deeper into the case. With his superiors at police headquarters breathing down his neck, his partner's trust diminishing, and the key witness to the entire private school inquiry staying silent in a hospital bed, Rebus finds himself against what may become insurmountable odds, asking himself what drives a man to kill - is it a matter of revenge, or a question of blood?

BookBrowse note: Siobhan is pronounced Shi-vorn. It's an Irish name originating from Celtic meaning God is gracious.

Day One: Tuesday
Chapter 1

There's no mystery," Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke said. "Herdman lost his marbles, that's all."

She was sitting by a hospital bed in Edinburgh's recently opened Royal Infirmary. The complex was to the south of the city, in an area called Little France. It had been built at considerable expense on open space, but already there were complaints about a lack of useable space inside and car-parking space outside. Siobhan had found a spot eventually, only to discover that she would be charged for the privilege.

This much she had told Detective Inspector John Rebus on her arrival at his bedside. Rebus's hands were bandaged to the wrists. When she'd poured him some tepid water, he'd cupped the plastic glass to his mouth, drinking carefully as she watched. "See?" he'd chided her afterwards. "Didn't spill a drop." But then he'd spoiled the act by letting the cup slip as he tried to maneuver it back on to the ...

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Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

A notch below quintessential Rankin with a wrap-up that doesn't quite ring true and a Rebus too dependent on painkillers and single-malt. But Siobhan-now there's a lassie to admire.

Publishers Weekly

Already a #1 bestseller in Britain, A Question of Blood is bound to enfold more American readers in the Rankin cult.

Library Journal - Bob Lunn

... as Rebus investigates the school assailant--a Special Air Service dropout and loner--embarrassing parallels develop between them that are appropriate enough to the city that spawned Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Booklist - Bill Ott

Rebus' demons may not seem quite as compelling a metaphor for the heart of darkness as they once did (Rankin has been mining this theme steadily through 15 books), but the character himself remains among the most fascinating in the genre.....Even if his demons have become familiar, his rants are like poetry to kindred souls.

Times Literary Supplement

The outstanding detective of fiction is typically a maverick figure, prodigiously disabused, supremely flawed, at odds with bureaucracy and red tape, endowed with the authority of the hardliner, out on a limb. There can be no doubt that Ian Rankin's Rebus fits the bill.

The Spectator

Arguably no Scottish novelist since Sir Walter Scott has had the commercial and critical success that Ian Rankin now enjoys. . . . He is an addictive writer, which accounts for his immense popularity, but he is also a serious and disturbing one. . . . A remarkable talent.

The Sunday Times

It exemplifies the enhanced craftsmanship of the author's recent work; the sheer number of the handicaps Rebus overcomes and the puzzles he solves evince a relishable virtuosity.

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