Sunday 17 November 2019

Rebus returns – booze, fags, junk food and gangsters

Five years ago, Ian Rankin, arguably Scotland's finest living author, pensioned off his most enduring and popular character, the Edinburgh-based Detective Inspector John Rebus, having featured him in 17 novels.

Rankin has since admitted that he didn't have the heart to kill off Rebus for good, and added that he probably never will.

Fittingly, that supposedly final episode in Rebus's career was titled Exit Music, but as if to prove, as the saying goes, 'it ain't over till the fat lady sings', exactly a quarter of a century after he first was given life in 1987 in Rankin's second book Knots and Crosses, Rebus returns, as stubborn and anarchic as ever, a gloriously unreformed boozer, smoker and junk food addict.

In the post-Rebus years Rankin created a new lead character called Malcolm Fox, the central figure in two very well-received crime novels, The Complaints and The Impossible Dead.

Fox heads up the Edinburgh police force's Complaints and Conduct Department, known colloquially as 'the dark side', or simply 'the complaints', and is the polar opposite of Rebus, a serious-minded, teetotal go-by-the-book police officer determined to rid Edinburgh of crooked cops. To him, old-school policemen like John Rebus are an affront, dinosaurs with no place in a modern police force.

But, as of Standing In Another Man's Grave, Rebus is not a member of the force. Forced to retire at 60, he is now a civilian contractor attached to Edinburgh's cold case unit but, like an old war horse, desperate to be back on the frontline.

When the mother of a young woman who disappeared after attending a Millennium New Year's Eve party in Aviemor contacts him and says she can connect her daughter's case with that of two other more recently vanished girls, Rebus senses his opportunity and persuades his ex-colleague Detective Siobhan Clarke to open an investigation.

Although her superiors are reluctant to permit it, Rebus manages to get himself attached to the investigation, a move that brings him to the attention of Malcolm Fox – who is convinced Rebus is bent, particularly as the new investigation brings into focus his occasional social contact with former Edinburgh crime boss Big Ger Cafferty.

By restoring DI John Rebus (retired) to centre stage and having him joust with his new creation Malcolm Fox, Rankin has managed with great success to please his two constituencies through a cracking good mystery solved by a cast of beautifully observed characters, all of whom will remain in the memory long after the final page is turned.

Myles McWeeney

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