Ian Rankin’s Detective Inspector John Rebus has long been the strongest of Britain’s crime-fiction police protagonists. Ian’s determination for unsentimental reality in the Rebus books meant that, in 2006, the old bastard aged out and had to retire from the Edinburgh strength. Here in 2013, though, retired coppers can work for cold-case squads in a civilian capacity, and so, like it says on the cover, Rebus is back.
He shares the book, though, uncomfortably, with Ian’s most recent protagonist, Complaints (“Internal Affairs”) plod Malcolm Fox. In previous books, Fox has seemed compassionate and self-controlled. Here – perhaps simply in contrast to Rebus? – he comes off as chilly and childish. That said, they were never going to get along, especially as Rebus gets into full swing once more. Loosed on the whole of Scotland, the reprehensible old git gives a good account of himself, and maybe even learns a new trick or two in the doing of it.
It’s not the very best crime novel Ian Rankin’s written, I don’t think. But I do think it’s a really good novel. It’s a novel about Scotland, its geography and its people, and the things they hide. It’s a late album from a rock act who have suddenly realised that, yes, they have all this to say, too. It’s a magnificent read.