The Naming of the Dead by Ian Rankin: Book Review

As the police prepare for the G8 Conference at Gleneagles in July 2005, DI Rebus is apparently surplus to requirements, not much more than a year away from retirement. No-one would blame him for coasting, but that’s not his way. The Naming of the Dead begins with a funeral, that of Michael, Rebus’s brother which fills him with remorse and nostalgia. But true to form he puts work before family when DS Siobhan Clarke phones to tell him of progress in the search for Cyril Colliar’s killer.

Colliar had been killed six weeks earlier and his death was the first in a series of killings of convicted rapists who had recently been released from prison. Items of clothing were found at the Clootie Well, leading forensics to identify the victims. The police had not gone overboard in trying to find the killers, but Colliar was one of Big Ger Cafferty’s men, and the gangleader wants his killer found. He leads Rebus and Siobhan to BeastWatch , a website giving details of rapists and their release dates.

Matters are complicated by the death of Ben Webster, a Labour MP at the conference. He fell from the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle. It’s not clear whether his death was an accident, suicide, or murder. Rebus’s investigation is hampered by Steelforth from Special Branch. Siobhan’s attention is diverted when her parents arrive in Edinburgh to take part in the protests and her mother is injured. Siobhan is determined to find the culprit, particularly if it’s one of the police. Then there is the local councillor Gareth Tench, who gets involved and is then killed.

As with all of Ian Rankin’s Rebus books this has a convoluted plot, with several sub-plots and many characters. Rebus as ever, is dogged and determined, cynical and weary, fighting against the odds and wishing for and fearing his retirement – what would he do? Cafferty and Rebus have their usual sparring matches and Siobhan seems to be drawn into Cafferty’s web.

There is an emphasis on family relationships and loyalties, and reflections on power and the effects of the loss of power as both Rebus and Cafferty are feeling their age:

It struck Rebus that what Cafferty feared was a loss of power. Tyrants and politicians alike feared the self-same thing, whether they belonged to the underworld or the overworld. The day would come when no one listened to them any more, their orders ignored, reputation diminished. New challenges, new rivals and predators. Cafferty probably had millions stashed away, but a whole fleet of luxury cars was no substitute for status and respect. (page 257)

For me there is too much in this book about the G8 conference and the political scene and I got restless in the middle of the book because of that. But overall I enjoyed this last but one book before Rebus finally retires.The title comes from the ritual of reading out the names of a thousand victims of warfare in Iraq. Siobhan reflects that this summed up her whole working life.

She named the dead. She recorded their last details, and tried to find who they’d been, why they’d died. She gave voice to the forgotten and the missing. A world filled with victims, waiting for her and other detectives like her. Detectives like Rebus too, who gnawed away at every case, or let it gnaw at them. Never letting go, because that would have been the final insult to those names. (page 135)

7 thoughts on “The Naming of the Dead by Ian Rankin: Book Review”

  1. Margaret – Thanks for this fine review. I really do like that quote you included about naming the dead. It’s a good example, I think, of Rankin’s style of giving his characters depth.

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  2. That’s funny – I loved the G8 stuff! :–) Probably because his plots *are* so complicated and it’s almost a relief to get something I don’t need to flip back and forth for to figure out what’s what!

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    1. Rhapsody, I do know what you mean! I just wanted to get on with the story and have not so much about G8, although I did like reading about the irony of how much the Make Poverty History campaign cost.

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  3. I’ve only read one Rebus novel (The Falls), but I enjoyed it and would like to read more, especially since my husband is a big fan. I don’t know if I’ll ever read the whole series, but it would be fun to try!

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