My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Rebus is back and all's right with the world.
I have followed Ian Rankin's famous detective since his beginnings back in the late '80s, and, in my opinion, he only gets better with age. That's the thing about Rankin's writing; he has allowed Rebus to age naturally, so he's now in his sixties. A few years ago, like another famous Edinburgh writer who tried to get rid of his even more famous detective, his creator tried to write him into the sunset when he faced mandatory retirement from the Lothian and Borders Police.
Rankin went on to write other books featuring other detectives, but Rebus kept creeping back in. He proved to be hard to put out to pasture. He came back to work on old, cold cases; he unretired when the rules about retirement changed; he retired again; and now he's working as a consultant - just like that other "consulting detective."
Many things have changed in Rebus' beloved Edinburgh since those early books. For one thing, the populace had a chance to vote to remove themselves from the United Kingdom, but they chose to stay instead. And it's no longer the Lothian and Borders Police of Rebus' heyday. Now it is Police Scotland, a modern name for a modern police force. But regardless of the name change, the police keep finding that they need a man with Rebus' skills, and his protege, Siobhan Clarke, takes every opportunity to use him on her cases.
In this instance, we have what might be a serial killer. First a man who had years before won the lottery was killed. Then a famous lawyer was battered to death in his home. There doesn't seem to be any connection between the two men, though.
The next incident is the real head scratcher. Someone takes a shot at that famous Edinburgh gangster "Big Ger" Cafferty. The bullet misses him, leading to uncertainty as to whether it was a serious attempt to kill him or perhaps was only a warning. Called by neighbors to investigate, Siobhan Clarke and her team are refused entry to Cafferty's home. He insists there was no gunshot. Clarke calls Rebus who has a long history with Cafferty, and soon the game is afoot.
Rebus discovers that "Big Ger" had received a warning note just like one that had been received by the lawyer before his murder. But Cafferty maintains that he has never had any connection with the lawyer. The police are stumped as to a motive. Plus, did the lottery winner also receive a note? None has been found and yet there are similarities between the two murders that make police think they are connected.
The relationship between Rebus and Cafferty is one of the more interesting and complex in detective fiction. Cafferty is Moriarty to Rebus' Holmes. Rebus spent his career at Lothian and Borders trying to put his nemesis away, and he did manage to do it for a short while. But then Cafferty was released from prison because he was thought to be dying. Once out, he made a miraculous recovery.
Over the years, the two have come to a kind of grudging respect. They are both arch enemies and long-time drinking mates. But even though they've been known to share a pint down at the pub, Rebus never forgets which side of the line he is on, and if he had a chance to send Cafferty away again, he would do it.
Some of the sharpest and funniest dialogue of the story comes in conversations between Rebus and Cafferty and between Rebus and Clarke. In both instances, these are well-developed characters that Rankin's faithful readers know intimately and it is a joy to read their interactions. But I think even readers who are brand new to the series could enjoy this book. It could work as a stand-alone as well as the 20th entry in a well-loved series.
The distinctive features of Rankin's writing include intelligence, humor (sometimes very dark), characters one can identify with, and intensely observed crime story plots that are never quite what they seem at first. He always manages to bring in current events and societal concerns to his stories. This time the plot turns on long ago sexual abuse of boys in a state-run home and the changing face of organized crime in Scotland.
And always the city of Edinburgh itself is one of the characters in Rankin's novels. Moreover, we can count on lots of visits to Rebus' home away from home and office where he conducts much of his business, the venerable Oxford Bar. For long-time readers, it's like coming home again.
Incidentally, I enjoyed Rankin's shout-out to one of his fellow writers. In one of the scenes when Clarke and Rebus are on stake-out together, Clarke is reading a book. It is Kate Atkinson's Life After Life. It could well be a metaphor for Rebus - he keeps coming back.
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