Am Bratach No. 254
December 2012
editor@bratach.co.uk

 


Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
Ian Rankin: “Standing in Another Man’s Grave”, Orion, 2012. £18.99.

It is five years since Rankin retired his maverick heavy drinking, heavy smoking Edinburgh detective John Rebus. Since then he has written three new novels, the stand-alone “Doors Open” and two featuring a new Edinburgh detective creation — Malcolm Fox, who heads the unit that looks into complaints against police officers.

In this, his fourth since the last Rebus thriller, both Fox and Rebus feature. Fox is still working for the Complaints Unit. Rebus is now a civilian employee of the Edinburgh unsolved crimes unit (a setting that will be familiar to fans of the hit TV series “New Tricks”). He is working on the mysterious disappearance of a teenage girl in 2002, and comes across a series of other cases of girls who have disappeared, the common denominators being the A9 and a photograph of a hilly rural location. He is also applying to rejoin the police force. However Fox is convinced he is bent, and sets out to prove it, believing there is no place in the modern force for the likes of Rebus.

As more recent A9 related disappearances come to light, Rebus inveigles his way into the live investigation where he once more works with his former colleague Siobhan Clarke. Along the way we are also reintroduced to Edinburgh crime boss Ger Cafferty, whose relationship with Rebus is a bit like that between Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes.

In both official and unofficial capacities, Rebus makes numerous journeys up the A9 to Pitlochry, Inverness, the Black Isle, Evanton and Dornoch, as well following the A839, A838 and A836 to Lairg, Tongue and Durness, in search of possible locations for the photograph and evidence of any possible abductions of teenage girls.

As to what he discovers, and where he discovers it, that is up to the reader to find out: I won’t be giving anything away. This being Rebus, who never knowingly does things by the rule book, he finds himself in conflict with others, including the Grampian Police and the Northern Constabulary.

Quite often, when a familiar and popular detective is brought back after either retirement or apparent death, the results can be disappointing. When Conan Doyle brought Sherlock Holmes back from his supposed fatal fall from a Swiss mountain, the stories were considerably less satisfying than earlier works like “Hound of the Baskervilles”. However, Rankin has achieved what few others have: this new Rebus novel is every bit as good as the best of the earlier ones.
There are a number of reasons for this. Placing Rebus in a civilian role in an unsolved crime unit works brilliantly and thanks to the TV series “New Tricks” most of us can visualise how such a unit looks and works. As with the earlier books, it is set in real time, so all the familiar characters have aged and in some ways developed, and the newer and younger ones have modern IT skills that passed Rebus by.

Unlike some writers who just seem to pick a location and then merely invent what may or may not be there, Rankin has done his research. This comes across in the accuracy of his descriptions and the plausibility of interactions. I can also reveal that he visited Durness last winter when researching the novel (he had lunch in our bookshop and restaurant). I have no doubt that the other key locations will also have been visited.

One of the most interesting facets of the novel is the relationship between Rebus and Fox. In some ways these two appear to be opposites: Fox is a teetotaller, doesn’t smoke, gets plenty of exercise and seems to stick to procedures. In reality, they have much in common. Fox doesn’t drink because he is an alcoholic, and knows if he has one drink he will be back on the downward spiral. Like Rebus, Fox is an outsider who has few if any friends. Like Rebus he is a loner and probably lonely. Like Rebus, solving a case is more important than anything else, and certainly more important than other people’s feelings or careers. They can both be single minded and obsessive, and both are unpopular with many of their colleagues.

If you like crime fiction, and if you enjoyed the earlier Rebus books (and those featuring Fox), you will enjoy this thrilling and beautifully written work, in which the A9 is strewn with more red herrings than camper vans in summer.

 

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