Sometimes, two dramatic events that happen in close proximity
become inextricably connected, forever associated in our
minds. When a young girl named Mary Miller almost drowns
and days later, the man responsible for her accident dies
in a freak accident, the local townsfolk permanently connect
the two events. Over time, the basic truths are lost in
conjecture and, eventually, the conviction that the young
girl is a witch and was responsible for the death of the
As Mary Miller matures, the town fades. The local industries
are dying, the mines closing. People were forced to leave
to find work, or stay and face destitution. If Carsden had
been a whole, thriving vibrant community once, it was torn
asunder, half the citizens forced to “ready-made societies” that “lacked
the essential womb-like warmth which had been the mainstay
of the old village. Suddenly neighbours did not know one
another. There was room only for cold nods of the head in
passing, and the occasional argument when a party or television
was too noisy. Still, the streets were relatively clean,
and the facilities were good, if impersonal: created for
rather than by the community.” Page 21
Mary unexplainably ends up pregnant as a teenager, the father
unnamed and unknown, as she had not been involved with anyone.
She faces a future raising a son, Sandy, in the dying town
where she’s an outcast.
The Flood is not a mystery. It was the first novel published
by Ian Rankin, best known for his crime fiction writing
and in particular the popular Rebus series. The Flood was
reissued in 2005 after being out of print for many years.
On the surface, this book is about a random series of events
that form a local mythology surrounding Mary Miller, and
the repercussions branding her as a witch has on her life
and those who remain in the town where she lives.
Beneath the surface, the book is really about the sense
of isolation within and without. Some were cut off from
their community by being forced to move away. Others were
bound, leaving never an option, but they felt the seclusion
all the same, for there was no cherished home where things
had been better lingering as an illusion in their minds.
They watched the houses crumble and decay, the people wither
and fade, the young pack and leave. Their town was on its
Many of those who remained meddled maliciously, spreading
lies and gossip that became local folklore, eventually regarded
as fact in the minds of many. As a result, some people’s
lives were destroyed as they were consumed by their own
bitterness, their guilt or their fear.
Mary Miller was the convenient scapegoat for their hatred.
It was easier to blame an outcast than it was to come to
terms with the changing realities in the world around them
and as Mary’s son, Sandy, matured, the shadow of suspicion
against his mother was cast over him as well.
His mother’s life had been one of peripheral contact,
of balancing on a slender edge between acceptance and outright
rejection, never knowing when the scales might perilously
tip. P 149
Rankin’s ability to create a visual image with words,
as well as to deliver keen insights in fluid prose, was
present in The Flood, before the first Rebus novel was penned.
Also, Rankin’s interest in social issues translates
as strongly in The Flood, as it does in his work now. There
are a couple places where a specific term is repeated twice
in a paragraph, which is something editors seem to be fussier
about these days, but these repetitions are few and don’t
impact the flow of the story.
I am always reluctant to touch on things in reviews that
might be considered spoilers, but there are a few things
I want to address about The Flood and how it relates to
Rankin’s work in general. One thing Rankin does in
this book is write convincingly about a woman with sexual
dysfunction. I am surprised he ever expressed a lack of
confidence with female characters in the early days of the
Rebus series, because I haven’t seen women touch on
this subject much in fiction, yet in his debut novel he
nailed it. If he can write about intimate issues like this
with such accuracy and sensitivity, I don’t think
there’s anything women face that he isn’t capable
of addressing believably.
As much as I am a fan of the Rebus series, it is only now,
after reading The Flood that I clearly see that Rankin is
not at his best when writing Rebus. He’s at his best
when he’s using the written word as a window to contemporary
Scottish society and the issues of the day that are important
to him. The Flood is evidence that there is only one thing
that would be unfortunate, and that is not if Rankin stopped
writing Rebus, but if Rankin ever stopped writing Scotland.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Sandra Ruttan’s debut suspense novel, Suspicious Circumstances,
will be released in January 2007.
Praise for Suspicious Circumstances:
“A gripping adventure, a large cast of marvelous characters, and twists
that follow turns. Read it. You’ll love it too.””
Robert Fate, author of Baby Shark
“Sandra Ruttan has graced the world of psychological thrillers
with this fast-paced, absorbing tale, fraught with corruption, murder,
mistrust, a number of unconscionable villains and two exceptionally
likable protagonists, all craftily entangled in a delightfully twisted
plot. Sit back and be prepared to get lost in this riveting story,
because you won’t want to put it down until you’ve turned
the very last page.”
JB Thompson, author of The Mozart Murders
"Suspicious Circumstances is a plot with endless twists and turns,
lots of unexpected heroes and villains, and enough unanswered questions
to keep you reading to the very end!"
Julia Buckley, author of
The Dark Backward
“Suspicious Circumstances twists and turns and twists again,
leaving the reader breathless and unsure which end is up. And that's
the beginning. Ruttan's deft touch intrigues and satisfies, making
her a powerful new force in the mystery field.”
JT Ellison, author of All The Pretty Girls, MIRA 2007
“A well executed procedural with a spark between our protagonists,
an excellent feel for political machinations on a small town scale
and a plot that twists and turns like a bad tempered rattlesnake.”
D. McLean, Crime Scene Scotland
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