Fox and Rebus: Right good Rankin

Ian Rankin
Ian Rankin

I just finished reading Standing In Another Man’s Grave. It’s the most interesting book Ian Rankin has written in recent years.
John Rebus makes a comeback in this whodunnit and faces Malcolm Fox, the hero of Rankin’s two previous books, whose job is to nail dirty cops.
That’s what makes it so interesting. It’s not the mystery that’s so compelling as the face-off between the two Rankin heroes. Fox is convinced Rebus has criminal connections because underworld boss “Big Ger” Cafferty insists on drinking with Rebus, who actually abhors the gangster.
Even when others say Rebus is clean, Fox is determined to get him. Rebus is a maverick, he says, and there is no longer any room for him in the police force — he belongs to the past.

It’s an older Rebus we meet in this book. He has retired from service but working with a couple of other former police officers handling cold cases in a cell whose days are numbered. Rebus wants to rejoin the force but his application has to be approved by younger officers who frown on him. They are, as he says, office boys who have no use for a smoking, drinking, loose cannon like him.
I was reminded of another of my favourite police detectives, Michael Connelly’s Hieronymus Bosch, who returns to the force post-retirement. He does not face the same humiliation as Rebus who is clearly unwanted by younger supervisors.
But Rebus is irrepressible. He continues to act his own way and get results. It’s he who solves the mystery and gets the killer in the end.
Rankin may have a soft corner for Rebus. Smoker, drinker, rebel, rude, big music fan, Rebus can always be counted on to do the right thing. It’s just that he likes to act tough.
He is such a romantic figure — a workaholic gruff smoker and boozer trying to right wrongs in a harsh world where appearances can be deceiving and justice is far from assured.
Every knight needs a lady and Rebus has Siobhan Clarke, his long-time partner, helping him with the case. Only they never touch or even exchange any endearment, the relationship is so stiff-lipped platonic.
It is a romantic thriller with no overt romance, a whodunnit that wins no prizes as a mystery but a cracking good police procedural that’s absolutely top of the class in characterization, dialogue and references to pop music. After all, this is Rankin writing about Rebus and you could not ask for more except Michael Connelly on Hieronymus Bosch and James Lee Burke on any of his heroes.

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