Written by Ian Rankin — We’re at book 22 in the Rebus series, so surely things will be feeling a little tired now? Rebus himself is retired, off the cigarettes and puffing on an inhaler. His visits to the Oxford Bar are few and far between as he cuts down on the booze as well. Is the series feeling similarly under the weather? Never fear, Rankin fans, on this showing we can report that it’s in sparkling good health!
A dozen years have passed since private investigator Stuart Bloom went missing. Now his skeletal body has been found in the boot of a car, deep in a gully in woodland outside Edinburgh, his ankles shackled together by what look like police issue handcuffs. It’s a woodland that supposedly had a full search back in 2006. For years, Bloom’s family has been complaining about the shoddiness of the police investigation into his disappearance and maybe they were right all along.
Freshly exonerated from an ACU (Anti Corruption Unit) grilling, DI Siobhan Clarke is called upon to join the MIT (Major Investigation Team) tasked with investigating the Stuart Bloom case all over again. It’s clear that things weren’t done by the book back in the early 2000s and it comes as no surprise that John Rebus’s name is on the list of officers who worked the original case. As we know, he’s never been a man to play by the rules.
These days, life for Rebus revolves around walks with his dog Brillo and managing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – something that leaves him breathless after just one flight of stairs. Taking it easy then? C’mon, this is Rebus we’re talking about and he’s soon inveigling his way into the current investigation.
Only two other members of the original investigation team are still in the force, Brian Steele and Grant Edwards, known back then as The Chuggabugs, a nickname inspired by the cartoon series Wacky Races, we’re told. They’re now members of the ACU and are the very pair who tried their hardest to bring Clarke down. She knows they’re not to be trusted, but with the history between them will anyone else be willing to listen?
Also keen to get a foot in the door is DI Malcolm Fox. Stuck behind a desk in the Major Crimes Division office at Police Scotland’s headquarters in Gartcosh, he jumps at the chance to dig through the old files in search of the truth about how the Stuart Bloom case was handled. But with Clarke in close proximity and Rebus also making a nuisance of himself, the trio are inevitably drawn back together.
It’s a nifty way to get Rebus into the thick of the action when by rights he should be at arm’s length. He’s getting old and in poor health but make no mistake, the old curmudgeon is going to be making a nuisance of himself until he breathes his last. Clarke has problems of her own, with a mystery stalker who is calling her at all times of the night. But she was taught well by Rebus and is not about to take things lying down. Fox has mellowed over time although he’ll never be able to completely leave his days at ACU behind him.
As ever, Edinburgh and its environs are a living, breathing, vital part of the narrative. There’s less of the Oxford Bar, but plenty of other spots are so sharply described you can scent the heady mix of secondhand nicotine and spilled beer.
Rankin is a fine storyteller, and this book provides a masterclass in the art of creating dialogue that resounds inside your head, so realistic you find yourself turning to see who’s speaking, and so sharply witty that you’ll be chuckling as you read on. The story is complex and compulsive, multi-layered and filled with clever moments. The balance of power may have changed, but Rebus books are still a cracking good read. Let’s hope he’s around for a good while yet.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars