Sunday, November 25, 2018

You die for being available

In 1836, while rabbit-hunting on Arthur's Seat, a group of boys discovered 17 miniature coffins, each about 10 cm long, containing carved wooden dolls wearing custom clothes. The most reasonable theory behind their existence is that someone wanted to lay to rest the victims of Burke and Hare (who supplied the university with cadavers for dissection, by making their own), who without a proper burial would be denied entrance to heaven.

We saw eight of the coffins, with dolls, on display at the National Museum of Scotland.

The coffins are tiny and creepy and weird.

Stare at them long enough and you want to read a novel about them.

Thank goodness Ian Rankin wrote one.

Ian Rankin's The Falls is the twelfth Inspector Rebus novel. I'd read only one of them previously, the very first one. I'd absolutely wanted to read a Rebus novel before heading to Edinburgh. But having been, I needed to read The Falls, which incorporates the coffins of Arthur's Seat.

A new coffin doll has turned up near Edinburgh, clearly connected to a woman recently reported missing. The investigation follows unconventional paths, just under the radar of the official police authority, and turns to history as a key. The last few decades have in fact seen several more dolls and bodies, never connected until now.

Another line of inquiry goes online when it's discovered the missing person was in communication with Quizmaster, who led her on a kind of treasure hunt with cryptic crossword-like clues. Rankin notes in the introduction,
Cyberspace is the perfect haunt of creeps, charlatans and hunters. It's a place full of shape-shifters.
I thoroughly enjoyed reliving Edinburgh's fascinating gloom within these pages. I also really appreciated the mystery's resolution, landing solidly in that surprisingly difficult-to-achieve zone between eye-rollingly obvious and unfairly out of the blue.
"Interesting poem, this," he said, waving the book. It was more of a pamphlet really, pink cover with a line-drawing illustration. Then he recited a couple of lines:

'You do not die for being bad, you die
For being available.'

Rebus closed the book, put it down."I'd never thought of it like that before," he said, "but it's true."

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