Little, Brown & Co., 384 pages, $27 (c2018)
Scottish author Ian Rankin is the master of convoluted deal-making, double-crosses, and backstabbings, and his speciality shines in “In a House of Lies.” Everyone has a moral center, but some centers are wee tinier than others.
Rankin’s bread-and-butter character, Inspector John Rebus (ret.), cannot keep out of the game. Because he still has contacts within the police department and because he once was reincarnated as a bloodhound, Rebus needs to stick his nose in when a cold case and a tepidly warm case wind their tentacles around him.
When Rebus was a young lad in the force, he was attached to a close gang of detectives who played by the rules they made up as they went. Over the years, they got the job done, they did, but mostly by refusing to be hamstrung by legalities and civil protocol. When the body of gay private investigator Stuart Bloom shows up after over a decade as a “misper,” his body rotted and his ankles tied together with a police-issue set of handcuffs, something smells fishy-fishy in the home of the people chosen to protect and serve.
It was Rebus’ old gang who had initially investigated Bloom’s disappearance. Bloom’s partner’s father was a police detective in another jurisdiction. Did Rebus give him an odd tip when their favorite gay bar was scheduled to be raided? If so, it was just part of the hidden police world of tit-for-tat.
After Bloom disappeared, his connections were investigated: the last person for whom he worked — a “film maker,” à la Roger Corman, but much, much lower on the ladder — his partner, his partner’s father (the cop), the shady businessman who was a rival of the film maker, and a trail of humanity’s odds and ends. Rankin’s Edinburgh has a lot of suspicious characters.
The gang gathered together to investigate Bloom’s re-appeared and murdered body contains Rebus’ old partner, Siobhan Clarke, Rebus’ old nemesis-now-friend Malcolm Fox, and peripherally, Deborah Quant, Rebus’ lover. It’s an interesting, intelligent group led by DCI Graham Sutherland, and you just know (and you would be right) that they will solve the mystery. Because of Rebus’ scant involvement in the Bloom case, Clarke and Fox slowly let Rebus draw himself into their circle. His loosey-goosey investigative methods provide key elements to the solution. But you knew that would happen if you’d read ANY prior Rebus book.
It’s not only former colleagues who pop up in this book but former criminals, as well. Rankin can’t let any good character go completely. Probably even death wouldn’t prevent a mention or two in a book down the road. Big Ger Cafferty, bane of Rebus’ existence, sometimes reluctantly accepted ally, criminal boss, and drug lord, has all forty of his fingers and toes in every criminal pie in Edinburgh, and he makes an appearance. DCI Bill Rawlston, now a shadow of a man, was Rebus’ first supervisor, and he makes an appearance. Darryl Christie, Big Ger’s rival, makes an appearance. The whole muddled shebang of them swirl around in this and another case involving Clarke.
A few months before, young Ellis Meikle had been found guilty of killing his girlfriend, Kristen Halliday. Ellis confessed but not everyone was satisfied with how the case was concluded. Clarke begins to receive anonymous hang-up calls. Two and two eventually equal four, and she learns it is because of the Meikle case. In a roundabout way, the case might also tie into the Bloom case, but that remains to be seen. Is someone trying to scare Clarke off the Bloom case?
Ian Rankin always astounds me at how poetically and artistically he writes his endings. But before that, he twists and turns you, and captivates you in the process, through the complicated past and present relationships of his characters. Good one, Ian Rankin!