Top positive review
Interesting -- if bleak
Reviewed in the United States on July 18, 2016
I have read some, but not all, of the Rebus series and also "The Complaints" which introduced Inspector Fox. This book brings them together investigating a modern crime which becomes entangled with the misdeeds of a police squad back in the 1980s of which Rebus was a junior member.
There is a gloomy, end-of-an-era atmosphere pervading this book. Rebus has rejoined the police after an unsuccessful attempt to retire and a sojourn with the Cold Cases group -- but he had to come back at a lower rank. He's now the subordinate of his former protege, Siobhan Clarke. The younger generation of cops regard Rebus as a dinosaur -- and he also apparently looks at himself that way. -- the Last of the Mohicans so to speak. He continues to smoke at every opportunity (which to me makes him an idiot rather than a dinosaur), drinks too much and bends the rules when it suits him. But he remains a brilliant investigator, devoted to doing the hard work with feet on the ground -- method plus intellect plus instinct.
We learn that Rebus was a member of a group of cops known as the Saints of the Shadow Bible -- who may have murdered a suspect and covered it up back in the early 1980s when policing was done a very different way. Fox is on the trail and originally regards Rebus as a prime suspect but the two forge a partnership based on grudging respect -- mingled with constant mutual suspicion. One of the strengths of the book is that Rebus himself is conflicted between loyalty to former colleagues and his passion for truth -- and justice. Another theme is an implied debate between the politically-correct, rules bound era the police live in now and the free-wheeling atmosphere of 30 years ago when rules were broken but they got results.
The book starts slowly and takes its time getting warmed up. It's as if the author himself is a dinosaur too and like his hero he's going to tell this story his way. There's little of DNA and modern investigative techniques in this book. It's all about a man who loves what he does -- investigating crimes -- and will do whatever it takes to keep doing that as long as he can. He has no life outside of the job -- but neither do Fox or Clarke. He has a broken marriage, an estranged wife and a bunch of unhealthy habits.
I'd feel better about Rebus if Rankin allowed him to try to quit smoking. He's bound to end up in the ER battling a heart attack, lung cancer or emphysema -- or all three -- in the next book in the series if there is one. I know that the smoking habit is Rebus' way of cocking a snook at modernity and saying "I'm going to do it my way or not at all" -- but there's also such a thing as reality and one might expect an intelligent investigator to realize it.