Rankin’s ag­ing sleuth is back again in riv­et­ing new thriller


AGE, a slowly fes­ter­ing ill­ness and the in­con­ve­nient mat­ter of no longer hav­ing a badge don’t slow down John Re­bus. OK, so maybe he can’t chase vil­lains up too many flights of stairs any­more, and he can’t han­dle the steep hills, streets and al­leys of Ed­in­burgh as he did in his decades as an un­ortho­dox cop­per who solved cases while thor­oughly en­rag­ing his bosses.

And, at times, get­ting too close to the old-fash­ioned gang­sters — es­pe­cially Big Ger Caf­ferty. Think of the Joker’s ref­er­ence to Bat­man: “He com­pletes me.”

In Ed­in­burgh mas­ter sto­ry­teller Ian Rankin’s 22nd Re­bus tale, the body of a pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor has been found locked in the boot of a car buried in deep woods on the es­tate of the wealthy man he’d been in­ves­ti­gat­ing when he dis­ap­peared a dozen years be­fore.

The pri­vate eye’s dis­ap­pear­ance not only re­opens a cold case that lands on the desk of Siob­han Clarke — whom Re­bus had men­tored and treated like a daugh­ter — but also re­opens charges that the Ed­in­burgh cops thor­oughly botched their ini­tial search for him... cops that in­cluded Re­bus. And the botch­ing may have been de­lib­er­ate.

The van­ished pri­vate eye was gay, and his part­ner was the son of a very tough and stereo­typ­i­cally mas­cu­line homi­cide de­tec­tive averse to hav­ing his son’s sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion be­come pub­lic knowl­edge.

Re­bus im­me­di­ately in­sin­u­ates him­self into the case.

Clarke has been mov­ing up the ranks and, for some time now, has been Re­bus’s equal as a sleuth — ar­guably even with a leg up on him, given that she can oc­ca­sion­ally pre­tend to work well with oth­ers if it’s to her ad­van­tage.

Com­pli­cat­ing things even fur­ther is the im­prob­a­ble ap­point­ment of two thug­gish beat cops who were in­volved in that ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion to the Com­plaints, the in­ter­nal af­fairs unit where Clarke’s cur­rent side­kick, Mal­colm Fox, once worked.

Caf­ferty, it goes without say­ing, is some­how in­volved in all this, try­ing to learn through his more vi­o­lent tech­niques how all of this re­lated to some bad busi­ness that put a dent in his drug op­er­a­tions back in the day. And how does the lo­cal porn-film in­dus­try fit in the pic­ture?

Re­bus in some ways is like Michael Con­nelly’s Los An­ge­les-based Harry Bosch — both in­de­fati­ga­ble de­tec­tives of in­de­ter­mi­nate ad­vanced years, in­ca­pable of bend­ing to in­com­pe­tent au­thor­ity, re­fus­ing to take care of them­selves phys­i­cally and mess­ing up their ro­man­tic lives while doggedly bring­ing ne’er-do-wells to jus­tice.

These are im­mensely riv­et­ing tales that Rankin tells. He tried to re­tire Re­bus once, and pub­lic pres­sure — along, pos­si­bly, with di­min­ished sales — brought the sleuth back when Rankin tried a cou­ple of books with Fox as the hero.

How much longer Re­bus can last is the sub­ject of some con­jec­ture and ap­pre­hen­sion among read­ers, and maybe Rankin is set­ting us up with Re­bus’s ill­ness.

But as long as Re­bus can stick his nose into cases and Clarke is will­ing to wel­come him as her scruffy, over­weight Dr. Wat­son, we’ll cel­e­brate ev­ery new ad­ven­ture.


Author Ian Rankin’s pro­tag­o­nist John Re­bus re­mains com­pelling.

In A House of Lies

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