Set in Darkness: an Inspector Rebus novel by Ian Rankin

It’s taken me some time to finish writing about the books I read in October. Set in Darkness completes the set. I made no notes as I read, as I did not want to pause and interrupt the flow of reading. I devoured rather than read this book, which is the first ‘Rebus’ book I’ve read. Because I watched the TV series I was familiar with the character of Rebus and the setting in Edinburgh. As I was reading it I vaguely remembered that I’d watched this particular story, but as I often fall asleep watching TV I couldn’t remember the details.

I read an interview with Ian Rankin on line in which he explained that

the title comes partly from the setting: it’s winter in Edinburgh, where it’s dark when you go to work and it’s dark when you head home. It’s also part of a line from an obscure American poem: – Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light.’ I thought the title worked well, because the new Parliament could be leading Scotland into the light after 300 years of being linked to England. And Rebus, you know, has his moments of darkness, but always he seems to finally reach a point of light.’

Set in Darkness takes place in Edinburgh when Queensbury House was being incorporated into the new Scottish Parliament. Rebus is assigned to a group set up to advise on security matters for the Scottish Parliament and whilst being shown round the building a mummified body is discovered bricked up in a fireplace. A tramp jumps off the North Bridge and is found to have a building society passbook showing a balance of over £400,000. Then the body of Roddy Grieve, a Scottish MP is found in a summerhouse in the grounds of Queensbury House. How and why these crimes are linked is revealed as Rebus and his colleagues investigate.

Rebus works with his colleagues, Wylie and Hood, aided against Rebus’ wishes by DI Linford. Linford is the blue-eyed boy, in his late twenties, keen to impress with a result, fast tracked and headed for big things in the police force, in contrast to the hard smoking, hard drinking, independent Rebus, who is out of favour with his superiors. As you would expect there are many twists and coincidences, and a whole host of characters and sub-plots to keep track of. It’s compelling reading, and I read it straight through as it’s not a book to put down and leave for a few days.

As it is the 11th Rebus book there are characters that have obviously been in the earlier books but I didn’t find it difficult to follow who was who and their relationships. Big Ger is one such character. He is a ‘Mr Big‘ in the Edinburgh crime scene and his relationship with Rebus is complex, both hostile and aggressive and yet they work in partnership in Set in Darkness, with Big Ger helping Rebus.

I like Rankin’s writing style. It’s precise and yet vivid, it moves at a fast pace with a distinctive rhythm and lyricism:

‘Darkness could make you forget what was in front of your face. Darkness would swallow the caravan site, the old putting green, and St Rule’s Tower. It would swallow crimes and grieving and remorse. If you gave yourself to darkness, you might start to make out shapes invisible to others, but without being able to define them: the movement behind a curtain, the shadows in an alleyway.’

I’ll be reading more Rankin soon.

4 thoughts on “Set in Darkness: an Inspector Rebus novel by Ian Rankin

  1. Hi Margaret, I was interested to read what you said about characters who have appeared in earlier Rebus books. I have some characters who arrive in one book and develop in the next. It can be a deliberate choice to set up a character for future development, but sometimes a character just grows in the story as I’m writing. In one book, I was so taken with the villain that I couldn’t bring myself to finish him off. He had to return in the next book where … but I won’t give away the plot! I also have a police officer as the link character in the series. She has her own life story which develops throughout the books. It’s going to be challenging to outline her history for new readers, without repeating too much for existing readers, as the series develops. There is a clear development in her own story, but at the same time each book must work on its own. Please visit my blog where fellow readers and writers are always welcome to drop by and leave a comment. I’d be interested to read your opinion on my cover design, if you visit my blog.


  2. I haven’t read any Rankin books although I have heard about them. I always thought they might be too dark. However, that said, I really enjoyed your review and I will have to see about trying one and seeing what I think. Did you enjoy the TV series?


  3. Hi Leigh, thanks for your comment. I look forward to seeing your book when it’s published.Your cover design is good – eye catching you might say.Kay,thank you. I did enjoy the TV series, even if I do fall asleep sometimes.Thanks goodness I can record and watch again! Two actors have played Rebus – John Hannah and Ken Stott – both are good, although very different.


  4. Rebus is one of the great gaps in my reading which I keep intending to fill and then somehow never get round to it. This is partly because I like to read series chronologically and finding the early ones in the library system isn’t that easy. I shall just have to go and look again.


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