Written by Ian Rankin — John Rebus might have retired from the police in 2007, but he just couldn’t stay away from the action. Since his return in Standing in Another Man’s Grave four years ago, Rebus has been helping his old department solve cold cases.
One case, unsolved for 40 years, still sits with him; the murder of promiscuous socialite Maria Turquand. Rebus briefly worked on the investigation at the time, before it was pulled from him thanks to a run-in with one of his superiors. Isn’t that just typical of the grumpy detective?
Turquand was found strangled in her room in the Waldorf Astoria Caledonian hotel in the centre of Edinburgh. The murder was headline news, and has never been quite out of the limelight. The victim was married to wealthy financier John Turquand, who worked at a bank called Brough’s. Staying in the hotel at the same time was famous rock star Bruce Collier. Turquand had a string of lovers, including Collier, and the lurid details were revealed in the papers. However, nobody was ever tried for the murder, and so Rebus, with time on his hands, re-opens the case.
Until recently Edinburgh’s underworld was controlled by Rebus’ nemesis, Big Ger Cafferty. Like Rebus, he’s in retirement but can’t quite let go of the life. Cafferty lost his empire to young upstart Darryl Christie, more businessman than crook. However, Christie is beaten up outside his house, left embarrassed and weakened by the assault.
In parallel Malcolm Fox, the internal investigator of The Complaints and The Impossible Dead, begins to investigate a money laundering operation which appears to involve Christie. Fox arrives back in Edinburgh and soon falls into Rebus’ spehere. Rebus sniffs a connection between Maria Turquand’s death and Fox’s money laundering case. It seems the person financing the operation was Anthony Brough, son of the bank’s original owner and now a high-flying investment expert. Brough, though, has gone missing with lots of money, and Christie and a mysterious Ukranian gangster are trying to track him down. Rebus thinks he can finally solve the mystery while Cafferty has an eye on taking back what’s rightfully his…
This is the 21st Rebus novel. Twenty one! This statistic by itself is extraordinary and that’s rudely ignoring Rankin’s 12 other novels, play and graphic novel. Yet Rather Be the Devil reads just as freshly and is as accomplished and involving as any of its predecessors. Like Christopher Fowler with his Bryant & May novels, Rankin shows no signs of wearing out a wonderful series and set of characters, which is great news for anyone who loves top-drawer crime fiction.
What makes Rather Be The Devil so special? First and foremost it weaves a complex narrative which slowly but surely unfolds. Every character, every action, no matter how small, plays a part somewhere, somehow. Rankin has also dealt brilliantly with Rebus’ retirement from the police. In fact, it plays to Rebus’ ability to irritate people and appear at the most inopportune moments. He’s almost a self-employed private detective now whose only objective is to find the killer.
Then there’s the supporting cast. Siobahn Clarke, who Rebus mentored for many years, is out on her own and reached Detective Inspector. She’s intelligent and a good cop. Malcolm Fox is back in the ranks and there’s a love-hate relationship between him and the other major characters. He’s the soft centre to Rebus and Clarke’s hard exteriors. And who can ignore Rebus’ old nemesis, Cafferty? They have an unusual relationship. Like a bad marriage the pair swing between a reluctant peace and trying to scratch each others’ eyes out. It’s another powerful fulcrum on which the Rebus novels tilt. Cafferty has been lying low for a while, yet in Rather Be the Devil he arises resurgent, proving Darryl Christie is just a pretender to the throne.
At the conclusion you’ll be left feeling satisfied that this story is closed, yet there’s the tantalising promising of further pages to turn. I, for one, cannot wait. The bottom line is that nobody pulls together a story in the way Ian Rankin does.
Rather Be the Devil comes out 3 November in the UK and early January in North America.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars