I know it’s somewhat heretical but I’ve never been a fan of Ian Rankin’s most famous creation. However I do like to try other things Rankin writes, even when I suspect it’s not really my thing; a category which DOORS OPEN, being a heist tale, definitely belongs to. Happily though I found myself well entertained.
The heist in this instance involves the theft of paintings from the National Gallery’s warehouse in Edinburgh. The thieves are a Robert Gissing, a professor and curator; Mike Mackenzie, a software millionaire who is a little bored with life and Allan Cruikshank, a banker. The three friends decide, almost on a whim, to relieve the gallery of a few of its undisplayed works during the annual ‘Doors Open’ day when various institutions around the city offer public tours. During their planning, which includes adding a weed-smoking art student who specialises in copying famous works to their number, they realise they need a bit more infrastructure and so enters Chib Galloway, a former schoolmate of Mike’s and a local petty crook. The heist itself occurs about halfway through the novel and the rest of the book depicts things going rather horribly awry.
The novel’s plot starts strongly offering a more believable heist than most in that it doesn’t involve a load of fanciful technology and the motivations for the three friends are also credible. That doesn’t mean the reader doesn’t question the sense of their plan (could a painting that’s only a few days old ever fool anyone for more than a moment that it is an old masterpiece for example?) but it’s not difficult to imagine three blokes of a certain type talking themselves into carrying out this kind of hair-brained scheme. And even when things start to unravel I stayed with them, accepting that one of them would fall apart when the reality of what they’d done hit home and that someone else might get greedy after the event. But by about the three-quarter mark, when the Viking thug called Hate and the policeman not assigned to the investigation but butting in because he could made their presence felt, I’d lost my capacity to suspend disbelief. These elements felt like over-the-top nonsense but they weren’t quite ridiculous enough to take the book into full blown comedy caper territory so, for me anyway, it ended up in a kind of no-man’s land of awkwardness.
There are a lot of characters in DOORS OPEN and it’s a fairly short book so none of them is terribly well fleshed out and quite a bit of what we ‘know’ about them relies on our understanding of certain stereotypes. That said there is some genuine black humour in some of the dialogue between the characters and the references to other, more famous heist tales are nicely done.
As someone who is a bit fed up with genre publishing’s current conservatism, manifest most starkly in its capacity to push series well beyond the point where they cease being creative, I have to applaud the decision to publish something like DOORS OPEN. It’s not a perfect novel but it is pretty entertaining and full of genuine surprises right to the end.
Apparently Stephen Fry liked the book so much he bought the rights to make it a TV movie which is, I think, the only way he could have gotten a starring role in it. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Mr. Fry but I’m afraid his and other very English presences don’t add much to what started life as a very Scottish story. Douglas Henshall as Mike is the best of the cast (and not only because he’s one of the few Scottish people on screen) but he doesn’t have a great deal to work with from the screenplay.
Most of the main elements of the novel’s story remain intact although the emphasis is shifted to focus more on Mike’s love interest (an art-world worker called Laura) and the worst of the most unbelievable happenings are removed. I can see why both of these things were done and on paper they were probably good ideas, but both have somehow failed in execution with the result being a fairly bland and soppy offering without most of the humour needed for a heist tale. There are glimpses of it (the scene where Kenneth Collard as Allan tries repeatedly to smash a solid door with a photocopier being my favourite) but not really enough to sustain 90 odd minutes.
Although it’s a little more restrained, the adaptation really doesn’t work so even though it has flaws I’d have to award this one to the novel which at least tries to be a pure heist tale and takes a traditional Rankin reader somewhere new.
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