Review: ‘The Beat Goes On’ (The complete Rebus short stories) by Ian Rankin

For many people, a long novel is a treat. But I’ve often found it hard to get through larger books, so when I was recommended to read Ian Rankin for my dissertation, I was a little bemused. Did I really have time to be reading all these books? When I found out about ‘The Beat Goes On’ I was very excited: I could reach the end of a crime narrative in twenty pages instead of three hundred; I could read two or three short stories in one sitting. The quicker gratification you get from reading short stories compared to novels is addictive.

Ian Rankin is one of the UK’s most successful crime writers, with his character John Rebus being one of the most enduring in fiction, first debuting in 1987’s ‘Knots & Crosses’. Interestingly, Rankin didn’t become self-aware as a crime writer until after his second novel, as he simply saw his first two as mainstream books.

As well as twenty-three extremely complex novels, Rankin has put out a couple of short story collections, a novella, and some loose stories for magazines. Almost all of them are collected in ‘The Beat Goes On’, with stories spanning Rebus’ early career, as ‘Dead and Buried’ is set even before the first Rebus novel, and post-retirement, as ‘The Very Last Drop’ is.

‘Dead and Buried’ offers an insight into how Rebus’ early mentoring led to his slightly questionable morals in the novels. ‘A Good Hanging’ is based around a group of drama students at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival and is interesting to read as a student. ‘Talk Show’ is one of the more mundane tales, lacking murder, but having a particularly potent twist nonetheless. Perhaps the most unique story from ‘The Beat Goes On’ is ‘Sunday’, a look into Rebus’ life during a day off, and his trauma due to an accidental death the day before.

In all of these stories, Rankin’s writing is perfectly economical, creating rich settings and characters with ease. As a place to start with Rankin’s work, ‘The Beat Goes On’ is perfect, combining together some of his best work in an easy to read format.

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Jack Oxford

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September 2021
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