Ian Rankin is a top British crime writer and this is #19 in the extremely successful Inspector Rebus series. Recently I have read a lot of books by popular authors who try to put new life into a series that should be running out of steam. With this book Rankin is doing the same by taking us back to the John Rebus's early days in the police force and reviewing what he really is and what he has become.
John Rebus is back in the force which is his only life. The only way at his age he can continue to work in the force is to take a demotion to Detective Sergeant and he is now working for his old protegé Detective Inspector Siobhan (pronounced shiv-on) Clarke. Their first case together is a car crash where the daughter of an important London businessman is badly injured in a single driver car crash. What is strange is that her seat belt is unbuckled and one of her shoes finished up under the passenger seat, suggesting that someone else was driving and had moved her into the driving seat to cover up his part in the crash. Her boyfriend happens to be the son of Pat McCuskey, the Scottish Justice Minister and a top protagonist in favour of an independent Scotland.
At the same time DI Malcolm Fox of the Complaints Division (their Internal Affairs) is looking at a 30 year old case that involved the detectives at the Summerhall Police Station who were well known for keeping down the crime rate by doing things their way and sometimes bending the law to do this. Rebus was a raw Detective Constable at the time and was recruited to become one of the "Saints of the Shadow Bible" who swore to uphold their own policing standards. Rebus admits that at times he did a few things he now regrets but he was never knowingly involved in really bad things. While initially wary of Fox, John Rebus decides to help him with his investigation with the philosophy of "if you don't like them join them". Surprisingly Rebus and Fox work well together, but with slightly different motivations.
Most of the living members of the Saints are retired and frail, but DI Stefan Gilmour has moved on to become a very rich property developer who is a major proponent of the "No" case for an independent Scotland. Fox's investigations mainly centre on the acquittal of Billy Saunders for murder which he believes was manipulated by the Saints especially because Gilmour resigned from the force at that time. The investigation builds strength when Saunders disappears and is later found shot by a gun known to have been confiscated years ago by one of the Saints.
John Rebus is a enigmatic character who, despite his age, is still at the top of his game but no longer at the top of the force. He is a loner who collects evidence in his own ways and feeds it where it will have the most effect. While he was a member of the Saints he is prepared to look at all of their sins with Fox and make his own judgements.
In my opinion most authors I have read recently attempting a series revival have failed my tests in some way. Ian Rankin passed my tests with flying colours with this very clever and well written Scottish police/crime story which seamlessly mixes the past with the present against a timely backdrop of the current buildup to the referendum for an independent Scotland. While it is part of a series it can easily be read as a standalone story. I recommend this book to all lovers of UK crime stories and to others who want to get a good introduction to this genre.
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