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Smoking, drinking, and sleuthing.
on April 22, 2007
Ian Rankin's "The Naming of the Dead" is a convoluted and lengthy police procedural that takes place during a chaotic time in the career of Detective Inspector John Rebus. The novel opens with John attending the funeral of his younger brother, Mickey, who died at fifty-four of a sudden stroke. Rebus is feeling his age in many ways; too many cigarettes and too much alcohol have taken their toll on his physique. He has been a cop for thirty years, but the job that has defined him for so long no longer earns him the respect of his colleagues. John's supervisors have little use for a detective who is often insubordinate and tends to follow his own instincts rather than standard police procedure. His bosses are waiting impatiently for John to retire, a step that he is reluctant to take.
Rebus and Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke become embroiled in what appears to be the murder of three sex offenders by a serial killer. Their investigation takes place against the backdrop of the G8 summit in Scotland, a conclave that is threatened by waves of protestors who have vowed to make their voices heard. Suddenly, one of the delegates, a Labor MP who was staying in Edinburgh Castle, falls or is pushed to his death. Although this is not, strictly speaking, John's case, he soon starts digging for evidence, and before long the cynical and sarcastic Rebus manages to get himself and Siobhan into a great deal of hot water.
"The Naming of the Dead," at four hundred and fifty pages, could have been trimmed quite a bit. The plot is extremely busy, there are too many secondary characters, and the narrative quickly loses steam. John's penchant for trouble leads him to confrontations with some thugs working for Special Branch as well as with James Corbyn, Edinburgh's chief constable, Morris Gerald Cafferty, known as Big Ger, "a villain of long standing" who has "fingers in every imaginable criminal pie," and a lay preacher, Councilman Gareth Tench, an unctuous politician with a thirst for power. Cafferty may know something about the killings that John is investigating, but Big Ger wants something in return for his cooperation. Rankin introduces a host of red herrings that keep the detectives busy chasing down leads before they finally learn the horrifying truth.
Rankin relies far too much on coincidences and far-fetched connections to tie up his loose ends, and the story's sluggish pacing makes reading "The Naming of the Dead" more of a chore than a pleasure. Still, John Rebus is a delightfully irreverent and sharp character who seeks justice even for victims whom most people would consider better off dead. Siobhan Clarke, a promising detective on her way up the ladder, is torn between loyalty to John and a desire to please her superiors. She knows that her friendship with Rebus is becoming a distinct liability. Until the last page, John frantically tries to even every score, regardless of the enemies that he makes in the process. Alas, even Rebus and Clarke cannot carry this book all by themselves and, like John's career, this series may at last be winding down.