The Travelling Companion by Ian Rankin

You know how it is: you amble into Waterstones to have a rummage through the French Revolution volumes when a fetching little hardback, attractively displayed on a table with a lot of other pretties (they do that so well in Waterstones!), calls out to you… And despite the fact that you’re *still* reading “Crime and Punishment”, it somehow comes home with you in your bag and ends up getting in the way of Dostoevsky…

I should confess before we go any further that I’ve never read *anything* by Ian Rankin before; not necessarily surprising, as I don’t read a lot of modern crime novels, but perhaps I should have since he hails from my home city! This little treasure, however, was irresistible: a small hardback with an enticing description of a tale set in Paris but drawing on one of Edinburgh’s finest authors, Robert Louis Stevenson.

The book is actually part of a series of tales called “Bibliomysteries” which take a great work of literature and riff on it, producing a selection of short stories; and having read this one I’m very keen to read more. Set in the early 1980s, it introduces us to Rankin’s narrator, a young man called Ronnie. Taking a bit of a gap year after studying Stevenson, he’s temporarily working for the famous Shakespeare and Co in Paris, missing his girlfriend Charlotte (or perhaps not…), smoking the odd bit of dope and not really knowing what to do with himself.

Stevenson, looking rather elegant and fancy

His boss (apparently a descendant of Walt Whitman) sends him off to meet the mysterious Benjamin Turk, a somewhat mysterious customer who wishes to sell some books – and it’s here that things get a little odd, with mysterious lost manuscripts, too much red wine and a strange woman in a floral dress who pops up here and there…

And more than that I refuse to say!! “The Travelling Companion” (which is supposedly the title of a lost Stevenson story) is absolutely gripping and I would hate to spoil it for you by revealing any more of the plot. Suffice to say, Rankin is obviously a very clever author because the story twists along beautifully to a wonderful denouement, and I ended it feeling I wanted to read it all over again to pick up the nuances and hints I might have missed. I desperately want to discuss how clever it is, how well Rankin portrays the changes that happen to Ronnie, the disjuncture between the life he left behind in Edinburgh and the life he finds in Paris, but I can’t risk spoiling the book. Telling you *nothing* else about it….. 😉

I read “Jekyll” in pre-blog days and loved its atmospheric ghoulishness, but I must admit I’m now very keen to not only read more of Stevenson, but also to explore his life a little more and see whether there are references I missed in this story, and how much (if anything!) draws on fact. A fascinating read, an intriguing story and a very successful impulse buy….!

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