Review by Sandra Ruttan

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 man.

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 deathbed.

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.


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 just 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.”
Russel D. McLean, Crime Scene Scotland

Return to Fall 2006 Table of Contents

© 2006 SPINETINGLER Magazine - All rights reserved

Baby Love
If It Bleeds
Behind You!
No Help For The Dying
A Kind of Puritan
A Thankless Child
A Certain Malice