With Bleeding Hearts, Ian Ranking accomplishes an interesting task by creating an interesting story around people you really would rather see dead in real life than free walking the streets. There isn't one character in Bleeding Hearts who is worthy of any serious consideration as anything beyond the despicable yet the story is itself entrancing. The characters are personable but you can't help feeling that they are personable in the way that a viper is fascinating - interesting to look at but certainly not something you would want to call friend.
The story starts simply enough with a hired professional assassin preparing for and then taking out his intended victim. Curiously he no sooner squeezes off the kill shot than the entire area is flooded with police. Suspecting a double cross by his unknown employer he sets out to find out who and why he was set up. Along the way we discover that he is a hemophiliac, likes his cancer suffering gun suppliers daughter Bel and only kills people he has been hired to kill. Rankin goes to great lengths to get us to like Michael Weston and the people he is associated with in his nether world of murder for hire but it never quite works out that way. The story is great and the reader is more than entertained by the glimpse into a world that they can only hope they never have to encounter.
There is a certain irony in the character of Hoffer who is painted to be the most despicable of men: That is to say Rankin uses cultural shorthand to make him despicable starting with his enormous girth, his drinking, a drug habit and general cantankerousness. The irony is that Hoffer is more human, more personable and more likeable in his porcine habits and from the hip approach to life than Michael Weston could ever hope to be. Hoffer is also responsible for keeping the story at its most interesting by pursuing Michael Weston with the tenacity of a bloodhound on a hot scent.
Bleeding Hearts is a rewarding read for Rankin fans and newcomers to Rankin's work alike. The skill required of any writer to create an interesting story comprised of characters that are singularly without anything to recommend them as people is an achievement in itself.
Other Ian Rankin Reviews
Blood Hunt: Rankin can do better but this is still a good read.
The Naming Of The Dead - Inspector Rebus: DI John Rebus is called out of the station to investigate the appearance of a piece of clothing of a murder suspect only to discover that there may be more murders than just the one he is investigating
Even Dogs in the Wild - A Rebus Mystery: A recently retired Rebus gets pulled into the investigation of a series of killings.