Ian Rankin’s genius for creating a complex double plot, even after more than 30 novels, remains undiminished. Rebus, who always used to tell Clarke that “the simple explanation usually turns out to be the right one”, is determined to protect his child from prosecution, even if she is involved in her husband’s disappearance. Could the man’s research into a nearby Second World War internment camp provide an answer? In both cases the usual suspects — money, love, jealousy and hate — play key roles.
It is always good to be back in Rebus’s company, even more so with Rankin slipping in various hints as to his eventual demise: “John says he wants it put on his gravestone, ‘He listened to the B-sides,” says Siobhan.
Like a fine single-malt whisky, Rankin grows better with time, just as his ageless detective John Rebus grows ever more compelling...
Famously not the most attentive father, Rebus nevertheless sets off for the rugged north coast of Scotland to discover what has happened.
But when Keith is discovered murdered in what was once a wartime internment camp, Samantha becomes a prime suspect. To prove she is innocent, Rebus will have to unravel the tangled web of lies told by the locals and overcome a landowner’s objections to anyone poking their nose into other people’s business.
Rankin takes us into a close-knit local commune, the characterisation of which alone is worth the price of admission. But back in Edinburgh, Rebus’s ex-colleague Siobhan Clarke is investigating the death of a 23-year-old Saudi, and with such familiar figures as the gangster Gerry Cafferty and the unsparing detective Malcolm Fox in the mix, this is vintage Rankin — which is to say, the best that the crime genre can currently offer.
‘I’ve learned that coincidences are as rare as unicorns,’ Rebus observes around half way through. This must surely be taken as ironic, since it’s coincidence that binds together the two strands of the plot. Not that it matters in the slightest. As in so much good crime fiction, the crimes in this novel are, in a sense, incidental. Fans of the series, of which I’m one, are mainly interested in the ever grumpier, ever more decaying Rebus, in the pleasingly nuanced characters, and in Rankin’s wry slant on the world around us.
Rankin’s irascible detective John Rebus retired a long time ago and his years as an old-school cop are catching up with him. opens with Rebus moving to a ground-floor flat, no longer able to cope with stairs because of his lung damage. There’s an elegiac feel to the novel: Rebus has been divorced for years, his ex-wife is dead and he’s not on great terms with his only daughter, Samantha...
Rankin’s affection for his character is undimmed, even as he writes with candour about his failures as a father.
It is a cardinal rule not to reveal the ending when reviewing crime fiction. The denouement is very satisfying, and there is something between a twist and a cliff-hanger. Suffice it to say that when I ran the hypotheticals there are multiple possible strands for the next book. A pity we will have to wait a year for it.