I’ve read all of the other Rebus books and the Fox books and so was very keen to read this latest book from Ian Rankin. I liked it – I liked it a lot. It was like meeting up again with an old acquaintance. Rebus is older and fatter but he hasn’t really changed. He still likes working best on his own, taking risks, and having a few too many drinks and a smoke. He can’t keep away from police work and is currently working for SCRU – the Serious Crime Review Unit, a Cold Case unit of retired police officers (like the TV series New Tricks). Nina Hazlitt contacts SCRU (I like the acronym) about her daughter Sally who has been missing since 1999, convinced that it linked up with the disappearance of other young women, all in the vicinity of the A9. Rebus then links it with the current case of Annette McKie, aged 15, who has recently gone missing after getting off a bus at a petrol station in Pitlochry, also on the A9.
Rebus manages to assist in the current investigations, thanks to Siobhan Clark, who is now a Detective Inspector, although he is not a serving policeman. This involves him in travelling up and down the A9 and surrounding areas. The hardback copy of the book has coloured endpapers illustrating OS maps of the area, although if you want to follow the routes closely it’s best to use another map as well:
I was engrossed in the book and liked the way Rankin included characters from earlier books, such as Big Ger Caffety and in particular Malcolm Fox. Rebus does not like Fox, describing seeing him, ‘sliming his way around HQ‘ and he tells Siobhan not ‘to hang sound those scumbags.’ Fox, meanwhile, has got his eye on Rebus and the dislike is mutual, as he tells Siobhan:
John Rebus should be extinct, Clarke. Somehow the Ice Age came and went and left him still swimming while the rest of us evolved. (page 85)
I liked Fox in The Complaints and The Impossible Dead, but in this book he comes over as a changed character, vindictive and out to get Rebus. The contrast between the two characters is strong, with Fox twenty years younger, a stone and a half lighter, with a smarter appearance, looking as though he ‘could have been middle management in a plastic company of Inland Revenue.’ They meet in the police cafeteria where Fox has a banana and a glass of water, whereas Rebus has a bottle of Irn Bru and a caramel wafer, belching as he drinks, and looking a good deal scruffier. (page 73)
I don’t want to give away the plot, and will just say that I think the ending lets the rest of the book down. The identity of the killer came as a surprise to me and I thought that Rebus had maybe gone too far in acting on his own initiative, so risky! I had to re-read the book just to make sure I hadn’t missed something. Having said that, I was delighted with Standing in another Man’s Grave. I wondered, along with Rebus himself, how he would fit in with the changes:
‘The job’s changed, Siobhan. Everything’s … ‘ He struggled to find the words. ‘It’s like with Christine Esson. Ninety percent of what she does is beyond me. The way she thinks is beyond me. (page 188)
At the beginning of the book, Rebus is considering applying to rejoin the police force, as the retirement had recently been changed, so that those of his vintage are eligible. Whether he does, or not, is left open at the end. But I suspect that he will and that he and Fox will finally cross swords. I hope the next book will not be too long in coming.
See what others have chosen as the Pick of the Month for November.