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