“It’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to think of re­bus with­out a packet of fags or a pint”

Ow­ing to med­i­cal ad­vice, for­mer de­tec­tive John Re­bus begins his 21st out­ing quit­ting cig­a­rettes and beer. Read­ers may find it al­most im­pos­si­ble to think of him with­out a packet of fags or a pint of IPA in the Ox­ford Bar. Yet it’s po­lice investigations which turn out to be the one habit that the of­fi­cially retired Re­bus can’t break.

“Some­one was mur­dered here, you know,” he tells his pathol­o­gist girl­friend, while they’re din­ing at Ed­in­burgh’s Cale­do­nian Ho­tel. Back in 1978, the adul­ter­ous wife of a banker was stran­gled in Room 316. It was a news story that had ev­ery­thing: the vic­tim’s ‘racy’ life­style, her wealthy fam­ily and rock star Bruce Col­lier, who hap­pened to be stay­ing in the ho­tel for a home­com­ing con­cert. Re­bus worked on the orig­i­nal case and is still brood­ing on the un­solved mur­der al­most 40 years down the road. “You can’t let go,” he tells him­self.

While Re­bus has his head in the ar­chive in his spare room, for­mer col­league Siob­han Clarke alerts him to a sur­pris­ing de­vel­op­ment in the city’s gang­land hi­er­ar­chy. Dar­ryl Christie, who de­posed crime lord Big Ger Caf­ferty, has been at­tacked out­side his own home – per­haps an­other turf war is brew­ing.

In re­cent years, Rankin’s nov­els have in­volved a three­way part­ner­ship be­tween Clarke, Re­bus and Mal­colm Fox, his for­mer neme­sis in po­lice anti-cor­rup­tion. Rather Be The Devil is no dif­fer­ent, al­though there’s dis­cord re­sult­ing from Fox’s pro­mo­tion to the Scot­tish Crime Cam­pus, a com­bined in­ves­tiga­tive force based in Gart­cosh. Rankin pre­sum­ably has his sources, in or­der to be able to pen such a con­vinc­ing por­trayal of the new set-up and de­pict the re­sult­ing dis­con­tent among the cap­i­tal’s CID of­fi­cers.

Re­bus is clearly well out of it, as this slick, pro­fes­sional Po­lice Scot­land op­er­a­tion isn’t his style. Nev­er­the­less, he’s a su­pe­rior de­tec­tive with a hard­won knowl­edge of Ed­in­burgh’s un­der­world, al­though he now catches up with Caf­ferty over an Amer­i­cano in Star­bucks, rather than a pint. When Re­bus finds a con­nec­tion be­tween the cold case and a re­cent mur­der, the se­nior in­ves­ti­gat­ing officer is stub­bornly re­sis­tant. But Clarke and Fox re­alise Re­bus is get­ting closer to the heart of a case which in­volves money laun­der­ing in Scot­land’s fi­nan­cial cen­tre.

For all that it deals with the nitty-gritty of po­lice pol­i­tics and pro­ce­dural work, the 21st Re­bus is ad­mirably con­cise. Rather Be The Devil is an in­tri­cate, evoca­tive Ed­in­burgh mys­tery that builds to a bloody fi­nale. Retirement may not suit Re­bus but it’s re­sulted in yet an­other bril­liant book in Rankin’s re­vived crime se­ries.

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