Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Standing in Another Man's Grave - Ian Rankin

This, apparently, is Rebus #18 and Fox #3, which handily also reflects their respective contributions to this story. It's a great idea to bring the two police protagonists together but it doesn't really work because Fox of Complaints only serves to tell us what we already know - that Rebus, now retired and working for Cold Cases, is a bit of a maverick.

The idea of setting Rebus's return in Cold Cases, on the other hand, works well. Every professional relationship we have followed through the preceding 19 novels is now reversed - Siobhan Clarke, formerly his oppo, is now his direct superior; Ger Cafferty, notorious gangland kingpin, is now also officially retired and Rebus's occasional, awkward, drinking buddy. Otherwise, the things which defined Rebus are thankfully much the same: nothing in his life except policework; the drive always to make things harder for himself than they need to be.

Forget the Malcolm Fox stuff, which is either a failed gimmick or (as I prefer to believe) a necessary device to frame Rebus's potential return to the force; this is essentially old school Rebus. Perhaps I should amend that slightly. Standing in Another Man's Grave is Rebus after he became fully grown from around the fifth novel in the sequence, when he gradually transitioned from detective to flawed hero.

The story is a good one. Rebus is able to link a missing young woman to a series of previous disappearances which convince the inquiry team there is a serial killer on the loose. Thus Rebus is seconded to the main inquiry, reunited with Clarke, and all is business as usual. There is a good running joke about the ambitious DCI being called James Page (i.e. Jimmy Page, the Led Zeppelin legend). We have the usual conflict between traditional hands-on policing and modern micro-managed policing-by-computer. Rebus mixes with the Edinburgh underworld in all its glory.

The midpoint twist I expect we would all see coming - I certainly did for once in my reading life - and the ultimate solution is neither here nor there. Somebody had to do it, it has to be Rebus who finds him, no one of course believes Rebus and Clarke has to be equivocal. That is what we want from a Rebus novel. That is what we get. In this instance we also get Rankin at the height of his powers. It's a long novel, 350 pages, but Rankin is able to fill it with character and complexity.

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