I have just finished reading Exit Music, and not only was the last of Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels a pleasure to read, but it was especially enjoyable to read in the Eastern Scottish variant of British English that Rebus and most of his associates speak. When Rebus turns off his torch, closes the boot of his car, drives to his flat and talks on his mobile, I know that I am in Rebus’s Edinburgh.
When I began to read the series, about a year ago, I decided to do so in chronological order. It was a good decision, because each book is full of references to events in preceding ones, even when a summary explanation is given by the author.
The first few books that I found in the UC Berkeley library were the original British editions. Then the American editions began. At first they seemed to be simply reprintings, but eventually they began to be Americanized in the form of changes in spelling (colour/color) and punctuation (reversal of single and double quotation marks). That was still no problem.
But somewhere along the way the language itself began to be yankeefied, or “yanked” as I like to put it for short. Especially vocabulary: flat became apartment (though tenement did not become apartment house), torch became flashlight, and so on. By the time the antepenultimate novel was reached, even the title was changed from Fleshmarket Close to Fleshmarket Alley. But the ultimate in “yanking” was reached in the penultimate novel, The Naming of the Dead. Apparently the text was subjected to some sort of search-and-replace macro, and not only was every instance of mobile phone replaced by cell phone, but the word mobile itself, commonly used in Britain as an abbreviation for mobile phone, became simply cell. This is obviously a risky move for a novel dealing with police work, and in fact there is an episode in which Rebus is imprisoned and then released, but without his mobile phone. When the text reads “he left his cell” it is not at all clear if the reference is to getting out of the lockup or not taking the mobile phone.
I don’t know what led the publisher to abandon the “yanking” of Rankin in Exit Music, but I appreciate the gesture.
Setting aside the language issue, I had another reaction when reading The Naming of the Dead. The novel, which was published in 2006, deals with a murder investigation by a man-woman team of detectives, DI Rebus and DS Siobhan Clarke, over the background of the massive anti-globalization protests that took place in conjunction with the G8 Conference at Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005. The book’s chapters are made up of alternating segments in which the protagonist is one or the other of the detectives.
By sheer coincidence, the novel that I had read just before it was Ça, c’est un baiser by Philippe Djian, a very popular French novelist whose books have, for some reason, not been translated into English, except for one, which served as the basis of the film Betty Blue and was translated under the same title. (The original title of both book and film is 37º2 le matin.)
Ça, c’est un baiser, which came out in 2002, deals with a murder investigation by a man-woman team of detectives (who, unlike Rebus and Clarke, have a sexual relationship) over the background of massive anti-globalization protests in conjunction with a G8 Conference taking place in an unnamed large city in France. The book is made up of alternating segments in which the protagonist (as well as the narrator) is one or the other of the detectives, Nathan and Marie-Jo.
Am I accusing Rankin of plagiarism? Of course not. The two novels are very different in plot and spirit. But Rankin, who lived in France for a number of years, may well have read Djian’s novel and been inspired by it. Is it a coincidence that the evil tycoon (a stock character in present-day socially conscious crime literature) is named Brennen in Djian’s book and Pennen in Rankin’s?