The title of Ian Rankin‘s new novel – Standing in another man’s grave (Orion, 2012) – is a mondegreen, a mis-hearing of a lyric, of a Jackie Leven song. (There’s a certain satisfaction, given both are men of Fife, to be had from knowing the origin of the word mondegreen comes from a mis-hearing of an old Scottish ballad, the Boony Earl O’Moray.) Rankin dedicates the book to Jackie, his friend and sometime collaborator, who died just over a year ago. I miss him; the year somehow doesn’t seem complete without a new Jackie Leven album to spend time in wonder with. The song is the exquisite Another man’s rain from, as the man himself would say at gigs, his “fantastic” album Oh what a blow that phantom gave me from 2007. The album’s title is taken from an anthropologist’s memoir; it still blows me away. Here’s the Spotify link for the album. If you don’t know it (and for sure, not enough do) there’s a brilliant version of I’ve been everywhere you would not believe and a poignant tribute to fellow maverick Kevin Coyne (Here come the urban ravens) among the other pearls and moving delights.
Another man’s rain is a stunning piece of work, a thing of great beauty, a perfect example of Jackie’s poeticism (he was ever a champion of poetry), his lyrical inventiveness and, as it happens, his genius for musical quotation (go listen). It contains one of the loveliest quatrains anywhere in popular music:
Every man has his flower
Believe it or not
From the mighty old English rose
To the humble forget-me-not
Here’s the specific Spotify link for the song. Performed live it developed a life of its own, especially when he could play with Michael Cosgrave. Here are a couple of YouTube links – sorry, I really should upgrade my WordPress account so I can embed stuff like this – both from Dutch gigs:
The big news about Ian Rankin‘s novel is, of course, that after three without him he has brought back Jackie Leven-listening Scottish detective John Rebus. And crucially not just Rebus but his long-suffering and sometimes soul sister and partner Siobhan Clarke, though this time he’s working to her since post-retirement he’s been recruited to the Cold Case Unit as a civilian. I know, CCUs have fast become a bit of a cliché in crime fiction, but if it means we’ve got Rebus back I’m not complaining; we also get a serial killer and child abuse in the mix too, though in Standing in another man’s grave there’s a neat undercutting plot twist between the trigger that catches Rebus’s interest and the smoking gun.
I think Rankin is pleased to have the old guy back. There’s a comfort and a touch of humour to the writing and the reading that was missing without him; not, I hasten to say, that I’m suggesting anything too comfortable – we’re still spending time out on the edge. In a recent edition of Alan Yentob’s Imagine tv show – Ian Rankin & the case of the disappearing detective – Rankin says he still hasn’t seen any of the Rebus television series because he doesn’t want his hero contaminated by an actor’s characterisation in the way that Colin Dexter admits his writing of Morse changed in the light of John Thaw’s portrayal. “I want him to change for other reasons.” Nevertheless – no bad thing – it’s hard not to see and hear the masterful Ken Stott in Standing; less so Siobhan.
Naturally there’s plenty more music – mainly ’70s – most obscure being probably Michael Chapman (has to be Fully qualified survivor?) and Scottish dialect words (someone is huckling for a move, it’s hard not to imagine what a dreich weekend is, someone else’s place is a bit of a guddle). There’s a nice running joke of Rebus referring to Siobhan’s boss James Page (“a suit and bean counter”) by way of Led Zeppelin song titles. Rebus is smoking and mindfully drinking a little less (though one evening he “emptied a fair amount of Highland Park into himself“). As he drives up and down the A9 he encounters old-style but “venerable” petrol pumps (fine word!). In talking about the old days and ways of policing (of hunches rather than computer probabilities) Siobhan tells him, “You’re vinyl, we’re digital” but she’s not necessarily knocking it.
With the changes in retirement age legislation it seems Rebus can reapply for a job as a serving copper again, and he’s thinking about it. I always drop most other things to read a new Ian Rankin at a pace and I’m hoping Rebus (or Siobhan with him as at least armchair adviser) can be around for the next few. (One demurral here: I’m still a bit puzzled as to why the photographs? … but I don’t want to spoilt it for anybody.)
Let’s get cryptic:
… just a few more crossword clues that have tickled my fancy lately, courtesy of the Guardian and Observer (Everyman) with some tipsy toilet humour, not a little cleverness and a couple of real ‘Ouch-es':
- from Everyman: How Monopoly starts, as it always has (4,3,4,2)
- and: Marksman notes owl (12)
- the first from Paul: Distribute the report of a yobbish baker? (4,3)
- from Shed: Being one of 12 getting hurt (6)
- Paul again: Fugitives wary as unprepared (8)
- from the mighty Araucaria: Copy concerned with backing Mussolini (9)
- a couple from Paul involving real people: Savage going after wild animal, a bloomer (5,4)
- and: Toms Cruise, Selleck or Courtenay, but ____ , I don’t want them! (2,6)
- from Gordius: Ointment for a Frenchman round the bend? (7)
- and Philistine: Trouble in the loo (13)
- Arachne: Rendered incapable (9)
- Bonxie rolls in with: Mean drunk provides watery food (9)
- and seasonally, from Rufus: They lead the way in the present transport system (8)
Answers appear after this latest instalment of Alison Graham doing what she does best in the Radio Times – trashing the trash. (And though as far as The hour goes Andrea and Val disagree, I still trust the woman implicitly):
- Bomb girls ITV3 10 Nov 2012: “… you can always admire the lovely cardigans.”
- The Hour BBC2 14 Nov 2012: “It is still hard to fathom whether there remains less to The Hour than meets the eye.”
- Hunted BBC1 15 Nov 2012: “I don’t think Hunted is ever going to end. It will just go on and on for ever in a parallel universe where it actually makes sense. Back here in our world, people keep kicking each other while more characters who are never explained keep popping up. And everyone in the wretched thing is horrible […] Meanwhile other people look enigmatic at railway stations, get shot in the head, and in one horrible sequence, are suffocated with a plastic bag.
- but she’s made her mind up about The Hour (round-up Dec 1-7 2012): “The Hour wears me out. In between yelling at news producer Bel Rowley, “Call yourself a journalist? You couldn’t uncover a duvet,” I project my own emotions on to it, just to liven things up a bit. [… ] Creator Abi Morgan … tries … to convince us that Bel and reporter Freddie burn for one another. But there’s nothing between them. They are two fan heaters set on cold.”
Crossword clues – the answers:
- How Monopoly starts, as it always has (4,3,4,2) From the word Go
- Marksman notes owl (12) Sharpshooter
- Distribute the report of a yobbish baker? (4,3) Dole out (Dough lout)
- Being one of 12 getting hurt (6) Injury (Ouch)
- Fugitives wary as unprepared (8) Runaways (anagram)
- Copy concerned with backing Mussolini (9) Reproduce !!!
- Savage going after wild animal, a bloomer (5,4) Tiger lily
- Toms Cruise, Selleck or Courtenay, but ____ I don’t want them! (2,6) No thanks
- Ointment for a Frenchman round the bend? (7) Unguent
- Trouble in the loo (13) Inconvenience
- Rendered incapable (9) Plastered
- Mean drunk provides watery food (9) Shellfish (selfish drunkenly)
- They lead the way in the present transport system (8) Reindeer (it’s Christmas)