The Flood by Ian Rankin
Mary Miller has always been an outcast. As a child, she fell into the hot burn - a torrent of warm chemical run-off from the local coal mine - and her hair turned white. Initially she was treated with sympathy, but all that changed a few days later when the young man who pushed her died in an accident.Now, many years later, Mary is a single mother caught up in a faltering affair. Her son, Sandy, has fallen in love with a strange homeless girl - and both mother and son are forced to come to terms with a dark secret from Mary's past.
This was Rankin's first ever published novel, with only a few hundred copies printed at the time. Ironically, it's also my first experience of his writing; I never was attracted by Rebus, but I picked this one up relatively cheaply, and thought I'd give it go.
A strange story, with strangely captivating characters, and a blind sense of not knowing where you're going. The characters here felt realistically raw, and I really enjoyed their accompanying back stories and development.
The utter Scottishness of the entire thing was nothing less than delightful. Small town behaviours and superstitions glared through every page, and the odd colloquialism here and there was excellent (although for a mining town, incredibly lacking). His commentary and research on witchcraft in Scotland was particularly engaging for me, and I only wish there had been more of it. The portrayal of the male descent into despondency after the closure of the pits felt like an important lesson in local social history, and I felt this was done incredibly well, truly enforcing the economic shifts and stresses of the time.
Despite all that, it's apparent in places that this was Rankin's debut novel. Although allowing us to guess at the promising mysteries during the entire journey, it was fairly easy to guess the real story behind Mary's past. Most disappointing of all, was the bland finale; I'm not one to need everything tied at up the end, and quite enjoy abstract and open endings which leave the reader to interpret things for themselves. Rankin didn't deliver on either of these scores, instead giving us a poor, rushed, and badly executed ending, with far too many unanswered questions. I only wanted a tiny bit more than Rankin was able to give me.
Nonetheless, the story had me engrossed, had enough potential to allow me to believe in Rankin's storytelling abilities, and most importantly, make me ready enough to melt myself into a Rebus novel.