Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin

I finished reading the latest Rebus book, Saints of the Shadow Bible a few days ago and have been wondering what to write about it that would do it justice. Ian Rankin is one of my favourite authors and his Rebus books never fail to impress me both with their ingenuity and the quality of their plots and characterisations – Saints of the Shadow Bible is no exception. In fact, I think it’s one of the best – a realistic and completely baffling mystery.

Rebus is now back on the force, the rules on retirement age having changed, but as a Detective Sergeant, not a DI and Siobhan Clarke is his boss. It begins with the discovery of a crashed car, on the face of it just a straight forward road traffic accident but it soon develops into a complex, multi-layered case, linking back to one of Rebus’s early cases on the force as a young Detective Constable. A case that with the changes in the double jeopardy law in Scotland can be reopened.

Rebus has always been an outsider, not one to play completely by the rules but his past gets put under scrutiny when Inspector Malcolm Fox investigates that case from the 1980s. There are suspicions that Rebus and his colleagues, who called themselves ‘The Saints of the Shadow Bible’ were involved in covering up a crime, allowing a murderer to go free.

The ‘Shadow Bible’ was a copy of Scots Criminal Law, a big black book

‘with a leather cover and brass screws. And we all spat on it and rubbed it in until it was dry. I thought it was a kind of oath, but it wasn’t – we were saying the rules could go to hell, because we knew we were better. We were the ones in the field …

The evidence was tainted, interviews hadn’t been conducted properly. How was Rebus involved, was he a Saint, and just how much did he know as a very junior member of the team?

The interaction between Rebus and Fox is one of the joys of this book as unlike Rebus, Fox does play by the rules. Ah, but does he? Beneath his controlled exterior Fox is just as much a loose cannon as Rebus, he’s not a team player either and it is fascinating to see how Rebus gets under his skin and reveals Fox’s true nature. For Rebus and Fox it’s the job that matters, but can they trust each other?

I wonder, though, just how much I would have enjoyed it if this was the first Rebus book I’d read. I have a feeling that I wouldn’t. There are characters who were in earlier books and references to previous cases which would have been lost on me otherwise. The first Rebus book I read was Set in Darkness (the 11th book) and whilst I had no difficulty in following who was who and their relationships I realised then that I had to read the books in order to fully understand the background and how the characters had evolved. I felt they were real people and I wanted to know more about them. I then went back to the beginning (Knots and Crosses) and read them in sequence, right up to the present day.

It’s all been an exhilarating and most enjoyable journey and I have a sneaking suspicion that this may indeed be the end – who knows? Only Ian Rankin and he isn’t telling, but he’s off on a year’s sabbatical in February and by then Rebus will almost be due a second retirement.

New Rebus book out in November

Ian Rankin has announced the title of his new Rebus novel – Saints of the Shadow Bible, with Rebus back on the force.

It had to happen …

Malcolm Fox is investigating an old case from 30 years ago – one that Rebus worked on in a team that called itself ‘The Saints’ and swore a bond on something called a ‘Shadow Bible’.

We’ll have to wait until 7 November to find out if Rebus was a ‘Saint or a Sinner’.

The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin: a Book Review

The Impossible Dead, Ian Rankin’s second book featuring Inspector Malcolm Fox is very readable, with a nicely complicated plot, and good characterisation. Fox is still in the Complaints, now officially called Professional Ethics and Standards, but it soon becomes apparent that really he wants to be in CID. I’m not sure what to make of Fox. He’s:

… diligent and scrupulous, never a shirker. He had put in the hours, been commended for his error-free paperwork and ability to lead a team: no egos and no heroes. He hadn’t been unhappy. He had learned much and kept out of trouble. If a problem  arose, he either dealt with it or ensured it was moved elsewhere. (page 105)

And yet, he’s another loner, working best on his own, not letting on to his boss what he is working on, disregarding procedure and getting involved in cases outside his remit. He doesn’t drink because he’s an alcoholic, his marriage failed and his relationship with his sister leaves a lot to be desired (although it does improve in this book). Fox’s family life intrudes into his work and gives insight into his background and his relationship with his father and sister. He’s a complex character and I began to think that maybe he’s turning into Rebus.

Detective Constable Paul Carter has been found guilty of misconduct and Fox and his team are called to investigate whether his colleagues have covered up for him. When Paul’s uncle, Alan, a retired policeman, is found dead Fox is convinced it was murder and not suicide and begins his own independent investigations, despite being told it’s a CID case. He oversteps his remit too by investigating a cold case. When his investigations reveal links back to 1985, a time of turmoil when Scottish militants were intent on a split between Scotland and the rest of the UK, he discovers new evidence concerning the unsolved murder of one of the activists at that time.

In the second half of the book the pace and tension increase as Fox delves deeper and puts his own life in danger. I found it quite easy to see who the culprits were because their identity was signalled, but nevertheless it was a satisfying conclusion to the book.

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Orion (13 Oct 2011)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0752889532
  • ISBN-13: 978-0752889535
  • Source: I bought it
  • My Rating 3.5/5