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Full Circle Searching

November 5, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Three weeks ago, I wrote about Scottish writer Ian Rankin’s latest Edinburgh-based crime novel, The Impossible Dead, which had been released already in the UK and whose delivery I was eagerly awaiting. I explained that I had gotten into the habit a decade ago of ordering new Rankin books from amazon.co.uk rather than waiting for months for the US release. Downloads of the e-version in the US are not permitted before US publication, so the only way to get such books ahead of US publication is to order the print copy from the UK.

A week later, just as I had begun to read Alexandra Fuller’s memoir Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, The Impossible Dead arrived, prompting my post about the dilemma of what to read.

In case you’re wondering, I kept on with the memoir for a couple of days. With its wondrous tales and beautiful language, I was sure I would stay with it to the end. But then I remembered my discovery last month, when I first wrote about The Impossible Dead, that in contrast to previous Rankin titles, it would be released in the US with only the briefest of delays. It comes out November 21. I know this isn’t entirely rational, but I didn’t want to postpone my reading of the British edition until the US version appeared. In a panic, wanting to justify the extra expense of paying for overseas shipping, I set Alexandra Fuller aside and started in on Rankin.

I finished The Impossible Dead Wednesday night. How was it? Well, that’s not actually the point of this post, so let me just say that I quite enjoyed it. Though based in Edinburgh, the principal character, Malcolm Fox, in only the second novel Rankin has written around him, spends most of his time across the Firth of Forth in Fife. Both Rankin and his greatest character, John Rebus, are Fife natives. It’s not unusual for some action in any Rankin novel to take place across the way, but this time Fife is the center of the story, especially Kirkcaldy, which is essentially due north of Edinburgh across the firth. Fox makes daily crossings of the firth on the road bridge (you know, of course, that the Forth Railway Bridge is one of the world’s great, historic structures), even walking across it once, as he tries to unravel a mysterious death in the 1980s and its connections to violent Scottish nationalist groups of the time. The plotting is intricate, engrossing, and ultimately surprising.

David Stenhouse, in his Stotsman review, writes that

Fox is shaping up to be a formidable creation in his own right. The first few chapters of this novel are models of terse, compelling storybuilding.

[snip]

Intricately and ingeniously plotted, this novel builds to a compelling climax in a the Fife wood where Vernal’s body was discovered. A purist might complain that a few of the revelations strain credulity, but Rankin’s world is so meticulously created that this barely seems to matter.

Rankin shows again his unsparing eye for the contours and ironies of modern Scotland. The scope and political force of this novel recalls James Robertson’s And The Land Lay Still.

Reviews for the first Fox novel, The Complaints, were overshadowed by the absence of Rebus. The Impossible Dead should put to bed any doubts about Rankin’s new series. Unlike Conan Doyle, Rebus’s creator has shown that he can step out of the shadow of his most famous creation. This is the finest Ian Rankin novel for many years. You won’t miss Rebus once.

And now, at last, I get to the point. How did I find Stenhouse’s review? I did a google search, of course. But here’s the thing. After finishing the novel Wednesday night, I thought it would be interesting to see what the British critics thought of it. I entered “The Impossible Dead” in Google’s search field and didn’t find much on the first page of results. Several links to Amazon, UK and US. The Guardian’s review. Another review. Off I went to page two of the search results. Down the page I scrolled. And there it was, the eighth item. My own post from three weeks ago! Why would I want to find that? I wanted to know what other people’s thoughts, not mine. And I hadn’t even received the book at the time that I wrote the post.

It got me to wondering, would others have found my post that high up in the search results, or was Google somehow using data about me to rank it so high? I don’t know.

Tonight, in preparation for this post, I once again searched for “The Impossible Dead” and headed to page two. I wasn’t there anymore. Nor was I on page three, or four, or five, or six. I had disappeared. Just as well, though I wished I had taken a screenshot on Wednesday.

I looked back at the page one results, which I had skipped over, and what do you know? I’ve moved up to third place! The first two results are to US Amazon. I’m third, the publisher’s site is fourth, and the Guardian review is fifth. This time I took a screenshot. Here it is:

So what’s the deal? Why is my post ranked so high?

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