Rebus returns

Rebus is back, as cynical, manipulative, unorthodox and brilliant as ever.

It is fortunate that writer Ian Rankin decided not to follow his instinct and kill off Detective John Rebus when he felt the character had run its course. Instead, in Exit Music, released in 2007, he decided to pension of what is probably one of crime fiction’s most celebrated characters

Despite lcomplaints from fans, Rankin stuck to his guns and spent the next few years writing books about the antithesis to Rebus, Malcolm Fox, who works for Edinburgh’s internal affairs unit.

In Standing in Another Man’s Grave, Rebus is a civilian attached to the cold case unit, itself under threat due to centralisation,  mulling over whether to officially apply to return to the police force.  

His interest is piqued when he is approached by a woman desperately seeking to have the case into her daughter’s mysterious disappearance ten years before. With typical disregard for process and protocols it is Rebus who finds the link from his cold case to the recent disappearance of a 15-year old girl and inveigles himself into the current CID investigation.

It also teams him up again, very semi-officially, with his former protégé, now-Inspector , Siobhan Clarke.

Clarke is caught between her grudging admiration the success of his recipe of instinct and  borderline ethical principles and the realisation that the modern police force is changing and she runs the risk of being tarnished by association.

Reading a Rebus novel is similar to taking a guided tour through Edinburgh’s less salubrious pubs, a pint in one hand and a whisky chaser in the other. This time Rebus’s ancient Saab takes us further afield as he chases down the possibility of a serial killer operating on Scotland’s main arterial highway and the deeper he investigates the murkier the case becomes as not one but two of Edinburgh’s long-established Mr Bigs are implicated.

Though pretty straightforward compared to previous plotlines, Standing in Another Man’s Grave is classic Rebus. If it strays into caricature (surely there has to be one efficient university-trained, fast-tracked ambitious senior officer in the entire Scottish police force)that’s a minor offence.

Rankin was obviously having some fun by giving Malcolm Fox a small part in this book, as the would-be nemesis of Rebus. But the reality is that it merely highlights the fact that as a literary creation, Rebus was a very hard act to follow.

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