Printed from:

Welcome to Columbia Magazine  

Tom Chaney: A Snell Wind and Occasional Smirr

Of Writers And Their Books: A Snell Wind and Occasional Smirr. Tom says a favorite customer in his store told him to read an Ian Rankin mystery and now he is hooked. This column first appeared 14 June 2009.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: 1876

By Tom Chaney

A Snell Wind and Occasional Smirr

Customers. . . Bless 'em! Especially mystery readers.

We've one regular visitor to the store who not only devours mysteries at a rate nigh one every 24 hours, but who has taste pretty close to mine. We both like P. D. James, but she is far more knowledgeable about British mystery writers than am I.

Every once in a while she sticks a book under my nose and instructs me to read it. I am rarely disappointed. Such is the case with the novels of Ian Rankin. I had seen them on the shelf here, but had no reason to try one until Favorite Customer said I had to.

In twenty-two years Rankin has published seventeen Inspector Rebus novels, three Jack Harvey novels and four others plus a couple of short story collections and a book of non-fiction, Rebus's Scotland: A Personal Journey. I just finished his fifth book and fourth Inspector John Rebus novel -- Skip Jack [St. Martins Press, 1992]. Reckon I got a right smart of good reading to do.

Gregor Jack is a Scottish member of parliament who is caught in a raid on an Edinburgh brothel, or "hoor house," as one policeman prefers to call it.

'Tis a suspicious raid. The house is in a respectable district. Obviously someone has notified the press of the raid, for they are out in force. Jack claims he was only trying to talk to one of the ladies of the night. That sounds suspicious.

Inspector John Rebus is not a vice officer, but he feels sympathy for Jack.

Then Jack's wife vanishes and turns up dead in a small river near Queensferry. It is the second drippy corpse in the last few days. This one might well have washed out to sea had not her heel caught in a branch.

Her death leads to an investigation of Jack and wife's partying circle of friends.

No more of plot, except to say that Rankin is a master of the intricate relationships necessary to keep a jaded reader on track and interested.

It is obvious that someone is out to "strip Jack." Inspector Rebus is set to find out who and why.

Rebus has become quite the celebrity in Edinburgh. There are tours of Rebus' Edinburgh. One may drink Rebus beer and whisky. Rankin claims he has spotted Rebus tea-towels and umbrellas and a Rebus-themed iPod.

All of this certainly puts me to shame who knew not of Rebus until F. C. told me about him.

Based on my limited introduction to the gentleman, Rebus does not come off as a particularly likeable detective. His character has bristles. He consumes a great deal of Oh, Be Joyful. He is unable to sustain an intense love relationship, being unable in Skip Jack to decide whether to move in with or out from his afficianatta. And that indecision seems to depend upon which domicile is most convenient to his work at the moment.

The novel partakes of the 'tartan noir' quality, and its bleakness is enhanced by the 'tartan damp' condition of the most disagreeable weather. Far too often the snell wind is accompanied by the occasional smirr -- the detective shivers and the tartan drips.

I've already found another Ian Rankin and am well into the further adventures of Rebus. Thanks to good old F. C.!

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2014-06-15 03:27:59
Printable: this page is now automatically formatted for printing.
Have comments or corrections for this story? Use our contact form and let us know.


Quick Links to Popular Features

Looking for a story or picture?
Try our Photo Archive or our Stories Archive for all the information that's appeared on


Contact us: Columbia Magazine and are published by Linda Waggener and Pen Waggener, PO Box 906, Columbia, KY 42728.
Phone: 270.403.0017

Please use our contact page, or send questions about technical issues with this site to All logos and trademarks used on this site are property of their respective owners. All comments remain the property and responsibility of their posters, all articles and photos remain the property of their creators, and all the rest is copyright 1995-Present by Columbia Magazine. Privacy policy: use of this site requires no sharing of information. Voluntarily shared information may be published and made available to the public on this site and/or stored electronically. Anonymous submissions will be subject to additional verification. Cookies are not required to use our site. However, if you have cookies enabled in your web browser, some of our advertisers may use cookies for interest-based advertising across multiple domains. For more information about third-party advertising, visit the NAI web privacy site.