Detective Inspector John Rebus of the Borders and Lothian Police was retired by his creator Ian Rankin five years ago in Exit Music. Rebus had reached the mandatory retirement age for B&L police and perhaps Rankin was a bit tired of the old guy after writing his stories for twenty years. But, as many a Scottish bad guy has learned over the years, John Rebus is not so easily fobbed off.
Ian Rankin went on to write other things. He started another series about another Scottish policeman named Malcolm Fox. Fox was the antithesis of Rebus. He was abstemious, a stickler for the rules, and never one to fraternize with the "natives," for which read "criminal class." Fox was perhaps ideally placed as a policeman who investigated other policemen. He was with the "Complaints," the police ethics division that investigated alleged infractions of the rules. Rebus, of course, was never one to be bound by rules if they interfered with him getting a "result." He would have been anathema to Malcolm Fox.
And maybe he still will be, because Rebus is back! True, for the present he is only back as a civilian employee in the cold case unit, but it seems the retirement age rules have loosened up a bit and he has applied to return to full professional status. That will never happen if Fox can help it!
The active case investigators of Borders and Lothian are working the recent disappearance of a teenage girl, last seen on a major roadway heading north out of Edinburgh. The cold case unit is contacted by a mother, Nina Hazlitt, whose daughter disappeared along the same road in 1999. She has connected her daughter's disappearance to others of young women along that road. None of the missing women has ever been found, nor have their bodies been located. John Rebus happens to be the one who is available to talk to the woman when she comes to the station, and he is intrigued. His instinct tells him that there is something there and John Rebus' instinct is not something to be ignored. Is there a serial killer abroad in the north of Scotland? Rebus begins one of his typical investigations, shoe leather on the ground, talking to people, more importantly, listening to people.
My, how I've missed this man! It's such a pleasure to have him back and to have him and Rankin on top of their game here.
Not only has Rankin brought back Rebus, he's also brought back some of the other well-known characters from that series. There's Siobhan Clarke, of course, Rankin's partner on so many investigations. Her star has risen in the police ranks since Rebus left them and there are those who think that any association she has with him now might retard any future rise. Such sentiments won't deter Siobhan who was not Rebus' protege for nothing. She's every bit as stubborn as her mentor and just as dedicated to getting a result, even if it means bending a few rules.
Also back, somewhat surprisingly is (Spoiler alert!) "Big Ger" Cafferty, Rebus' nemesis over so many years. Theirs was always a complicated relationship. At the end of Exit Music, it was not at all clear that Cafferty had survived. He did, and he now owes his life to Rebus. Cafferty is a man who always pays his debts.
There's a new bad guy in Edinburgh crime, not quite as canny as Cafferty, and there's a protege of his, a young guy, the brother of the recently missing girl, who looks like he might take over the whole shebang. But I mustn't give too much away. Suffice to say that this is one of Rankin's typical plots with twists and turns and surprises enough to keep the reader satisfied and keep us turning those pages.
The only criticism that I have of the book is that the ending just seemed a bit too convenient and labored. It's a small quibble, a small price to pay to have my favorite detective back on the case again. Let's hope that Malcolm Fox's crusade against him fails and that he'll soon be back with Borders and Lothian for real, working with Siobhan Clarke to catch the bad guys, even if it means bending the rules a bit. We can also hope that it won't take Ian Rankin another five years to give us the next entry in this series.
UPDATE: For those in the Houston area, Ian Rankin will be in town on Wednesday, January 30. He'll be appearing at Murder by the Book at 6:30 to meet fans and sign his book. Wonder if I could get him to sign my Kindle?