A Cool Head – Ian Rankin

I am really beginning to love short reads. I read a couple earlier on in the year but hadn’t really touched upon anything new for quite a while.

That is until I found A Cool Head one day when I was browsing the book section of my local charity shop.

And, as a work of little over 100 pages, I devoured it in a single night.

The premise is quite simple:

A young man called Gravy finds himself embroiled in a scheme to murder a woman in witness protection after his friend turns up at his place of work – a graveyard – with a bullet in his chest, a gun in his bag and a car filled with money and a balaclava.

There are several things that make this story utterly brilliant. In the first instance, the story actually deals with two crimes at the same time: one man’s attempt to stop a woman from testifying against him and another man’s attempt to steal the first man’s money.  For a novella this short, one might be led to suspect that such an undertaking could make the whole story a little convoluted and difficult to follow but the way Rankin deals with it gives the story that little bit of extra magic…

Which leads me to the second thing that really makes this story. Whilst the story is billed as being one that follows the main character – Gravy – it would actually be fairer to describe this as a brilliantly conceived ensemble piece. In fact, Gravy – for all his importance in the story – actually appears in about a third of the whole text. The rest of the story follows both the gangsters who are trying to hunt Gravy down and the police who are chasing after the gangsters and the reader actually learns more about what is going on through their actions than they do through Gravy’s – more on that later.

This wonderful flip of points of view throughout this story not only helps to keep the reader utterly engaged, but also gives them a great thrill ride whilst the character of Gravy does (comparatively) very little of interest at all…

This is brings us smartly to the final thing that I think makes this story: the character of Gravy himself.

From the outset, we are shown that Gravy isn’t all there. It’s never fully explained whether he has learning difficulties or whether he is just a monumental idiot and – to be honest – it doesn’t really have to. As a reader, we are treated to moving in and out of a fast paced story whilst experiencing it from the point of view of someone who really hasn’t got a clue about what’s going on – even as the final words of the last chapter close, we are left wondering whether Gravy ever really understood that there was some large-scale crime going on around him.

And that, to me at least, is wonderfully refreshing. Something about Gravy’s innocence in the story makes you want to see him through, even though – as a personality – he is actually quite dull.

A Cool Head is a fantastic little story and well worth a read for any crime or thriller fans – 5/5.

The Book Review Rankings

A Cool Head is a fairly standard crime romp, but a well-conceived one. For such a short piece, the characters are well imagined and the introduction of two crimes almost simultaneous keeps the reader gripped from the first couple of pages.

 

However, what it lacks is a bit more exploration of history – particularly of the main character. We know very little about him (largely down to the short length of the story) and – whilst this still allows the story to work – it would be nice to know a little more about him.

A Cool Head therefore slots into number 8, just being The Crossing Places, knocking Death on the Nile out of the top ten.

Here are the latest rankings:

  1. The Devil’s Detective – Simon Kurt Unsworth
  2. Time and Time Again – Ben Elton
  3. The Cinderella Murder – Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke
  4. And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie
  5. The Murder Bag – Tony Parsons
  6. The Woman in Black – Susan Hill
  7. The Crossing Places – Elly Griffiths
  8. A Cool Head – Ian Rankin
  9. The Slaughter Man – Tony Parsons
  10. You – Caroline Kepnes

If you have a suggestion for books that might make my Top Ten Mystery/Crime/Thriller reads, please feel free to comment below and I will see what takes my fancy…

@NickRBTingley

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