Written by Ian Rankin — As the years pass and life becomes more and more complicated, some old friendships can end up on the back burner or fall by the wayside. Others, however, are more durable. You can be apart for years and just fall back into that sense of easy companionship as soon as you’re reunited.
I feel that way about John Rebus. We’ve known each other for a quarter of a century now. Not heard a peep from him for five years, but now he’s back in my life and I feel like he’s never been away.
Rebus fans know the man well, and we’re secure in the knowledge that in the past five years he’s been spending his retirement nursing a whisky, listening to music and reliving old times.
Which is pretty much where Standing In Another Man’s Grave comes in. As it opens, we find Rebus in a cemetery, loitering on the periphery at the funeral of an old colleague. These days he works cold cases, but still hankers after being in the thick of it. So when the plight of a visitor to the office piques his interest, he begins compiling files and going back over old ground, trying to connect the dots between several disparate missing persons cases stretching back to the start of the 21st century. Over the years a number of young women have disappeared close to a particular stretch of road, and for several of them the last point of contact was a grainy photograph sent by mobile phone. Rebus is certain there is a link between them all and that the photo could hold the key, but can he convince anyone else?
First in his line of fire is former sidekick Siobhan Clarke, now on the upward slope in her career – if she can stay away from the toxic influences that come with the Rebus territory. It’s a big ask though, and although she scoffs at John’s old school ways she is soon drawn into his seemingly haphazard investigation.
Throw into the mix the interference of Rankin’s newest cast member, Malcolm Fox, of Edinburgh’s internal affairs unit, and you get the feeling that Rebus is fast running out of tarmac. Because Fox is out for blood, and he pursues Rebus with all the tenacity of a hardened predator.
He’s got plenty to get his teeth into – notwithstanding the usual Rebus traits of going it alone and ignoring all the rules, our hero has also picked up a new ‘friend’ in the shape of Big Ger Cafferty, who fans will remember as a kingpin of the local gang scene. After a near-death experience (with Rebus to the rescue) Cafferty is also supposedly retired. But why do punters still clear the way when he and Rebus go out for a drink or two? Fox has his suspicions, and he won’t rest until he has enough evidence to keep Rebus off the force forever.
As with all Rebus novels, there is a virtual soundtrack running throughout. As if to prove the point, the book’s title even takes its inspiration from a song by the late Scottish singer-songwriter Jackie Leven and it is dedicated to his memory.
Ian Rankin is a real star in the crime fiction firmament, and Standing In Another Man’s Grave is a shining example of why he holds that position. It offers a great plotline, populated by characters so realistic that you almost feel as if you’re watching the story unfold rather than reading it. At last, once again, we have the added bonus of the wonderful John Rebus at the heart of all the action.
It’s a book that will more than satisfy Rebus-starved fans, but new acquaintances will find little difficulty in becoming thoroughly engrossed as well. I’ll guarantee they’ll soon be gathering up the Rebus back catalogue too.
Canny Rankin has even left enough loose ends so he can write yet another John Rebus book sometime in the future if he so wishes. I certainly hope so, because good friends are hard to find.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars