Little, Brown & Co., 400 pages, $26
You’ve been alerted, warned, alarmed, and served with notice.
John Rebus, former retired DI, former civilian cold case investigator, has, by some miracle, been allowed to rejoin the Lothian and Borders Police … but as a lowly detective sergeant, a grade below the now-superior, ex-inferior DI Siobhan Clarke. He appears to be dealing well with the change, just happy to be back in the saddle. As Rebus re-enters the force at a time of modernization, reorganization, and centralization for the Scottish police force, it is ironic that a case from Rebus’s first years with the force reappears.
Because of a new interpretation of the double jeopardy law, the murder of Douglas Merchant by his lover’s husband, Billy Saunders, thirty years ago is being reopened. Messy record keeping and sloppy detective work resulted in Saunders’s release. Since it was his team’s case, Rebus’s boss, DI Stefan Gilmour, had to fall on his sword and leave the force. No great harm done, as it turns out, because Gilmour went on to become a millionaire through property development.
So Rebus’s old Summerhall team is under scrutiny again, which of course means that Rebus is under scrutiny by his old nemesis from “The Complaints" department, Malcolm Fox. Rebus was just a detective constable at the time and thus a very junior member of “Saints of the Shadow Bible,” nicknamed as so many of the CID teams were at the time. The other members, DSs Eamonn Paterson and George “Dod” Blantyre, have been retired for some time. Dod is housebound with a terminal illness. It is a sad and tentative reunion for them in the present day, held on the metaphorical eve of their destruction. They have not kept in touch much over the years, either to remember the good times or excoriate the bad.
Back when the Saints were detecting, it was the Wild West of police work. Results were what mattered, and people could be made to look the other way about how those results were garnered. Just what does Rebus know and what does he suspect? Since we faithful followers know that Rebus is (mostly) honorable at heart, it is hard to believe that he might be mixed up in something too unorthodox. But it is suspicious that Saunders got away with murder.
Then Billy Saunders disappears in the present time, right before he is to be interrogated. And right before that he had received a phone call from Stefan Gilmour.
Rebus is rebuffed from officially investigating anything to do with the Saunders case. Instead, he is assigned an automobile accident in which a young woman, Jessica Traynor, was injured. Since it’s a Rebus case, nothing is simple. Rebus believes she was not driving, even though she was found in the driver’s seat. Her boyfriend is Forbes McCuskey, son of a prominent politician. Her roommate is a little too nervous when interviewed. Jessica, to add to the drama, is the daughter of a big-time businessman with a shady underside. When Forbes’s father is found dead, Rebus wonders whether it has to do with the accident.
Edinburgh must be a small place*, because soon everyone’s lives are crossing and intertwining. (Rebus even finds that he lives on the same street as Forbes McCuskey.) Rebus sticks his nose into all of the big cases and tries to see the big picture of those cases and his own, when everyone else is mired in the details.
My heart bled for Rebus with his “demotion” and when he is shuffled aside over and over. (Can he survive the thought of Siobhan and Malcolm as comrades-in-arms without him?) He was left answering to the odious and toadying DCI James Page, who mostly just needs a scapegoat. It bled again when he had to choose between his old loyalties and solving some crimes.
The picture of Rebus as a lonely, record-playing, chain-smoking, alcohol-guzzling bachelor was clear before and is hammered home again. (At one point, as a bully is beating on Rebus, he calls Rebus "Grandad." Ouch.) But he still has a fire in him, and Rankin invites us along to see it stoked.
* Don't send me emails; I know it's not small. I've been there -- and really enjoyed my visits.