I’ve previously read the first of Rankin’s Rebus novels, and now this one, the twenty-second and most recent of them. There are thirty one years between the two books, and Rebus has aged to match the passage of time. The early Rebus was a heavy drinking, heavy smoking, mostly disillusioned cop, not the best in the force, but competent at his work, and fairly healthy from his ex-SAS background.
The Rebus of this book is retired, has emphysema, so has quit smoking and greatly reduced his drinking. Rebus refers to himself as in
managed decline. But although retired, he seems to be a much sharper detective and is referred to as
a legend by one of the current senior detectives. He’s an anti-hero, a maverick with his own moral code of loyalty to those he regards as
family. Overall I found the Rebus of this book a much more appealing character than the Rebus of the first book.
However, Rebus is only one of three main characters, along with Siobhan Clarke (who I would say is the main focus of this book) and Malcolm Fox. I gather both of these characters have been in previous books and have long relationships with Rebus. Each of the characters has one part of the story as their main focus, but they each contribute to all of the storylines in some way.
There are actually three main intertwined stories in the book, with a minor fourth one also weaving between the threads of the others.
The main story is the discovery of the body of a private detective who disappeared ten years ago. Clarke is on the team investigating the death. Rebus was on the original investigative team ten years ago and Fox has been assigned to review the original case file to see if there was any negligence or corruption in the investigation.
Meanwhile, Clarke is being plagued by anonymous phone calls and targeted vandalism at her home. Identifying the culprit isn’t difficult for her, but it leads to her asking Rebus for help in dealing with the issue, by getting him to review a recent murder conviction.
Both of these cases are complicated by the involvement of two officers from the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU). They have previously targeted both Rebus and Clarke, and try to use Fox (who is ex-ACU) in their scheme to have Clarke dismissed for corrupt behaviour. And to link them fully into the story, ten years they were both in uniform and did a lot of the leg work in the original investigation.
And weaving through the background behind all the other stories is that of Cafferty, a major organised crime figure in Edinburgh; a man Rebus has wanted to put away for many years but has never managed to get anything to stick.
Even without having read the intervening twenty books, I had no problems getting into the story of this one immediately, and didn’t feel like I was missing any necessary background. Clarke and Fox have obviously been in previous books and have history with Rebus, but everything needed to follow this story is contained within it. Possibly reading all the books in order would add something to the experience of this one, but the book is good enough to stand alone. Rankin is a skilled storyteller, and doesn’t make enjoyment of this book dependent on familiarity with the Rebus canon. The separate stories are all woven together to form a tight and satisfying whole.
Apart from the crimes being investigated, Rankin provides a view into policing in Scotland. As a complete outsider to this world, his depiction of the changed face of policing in Scotland felt legitimate, and I would be surprised if I was to ever find out that it is inaccurate. His descriptions of the structural changes to centralise police functions match my own experiences with how my own work has changed over the last decade with corporatisation and concern over public perception sometimes interfering with people who are competent at their job but are unable to do without interference. The modern police force that Clarke and Fox work in seems worlds away from the one where I first met Rebus in the first book.
Overall this is a skilfully constructed police procedural that was a pleasure to listen to. James MacPherson’s Scottish voice as the narrator added to my enjoyment of this audiobook.