Note: This review was first published on this site in 2013 and marked the return of John Rebus after author Ian Rankin had ‘retired’ him in Exit Music. It seems Rebus refused to go away quietly!
Drum roll! Rebus is back! Five year since his retirement in Exit Music, Scotland’s favourite chain smoking, alcoholic, dour, rule breaking, but definitely good to have on your side, detective is back. He returns working cold case files and when the mother of a girl who disappeared on the A9 years ago asks for help, Rebus uncovers several other missing cases linked to the A9.
Cue investigations, rubbing superiors up the wrong way, red herrings, the return of familiar characters, sidekick Siobhan Clarke, criminal boss Cafferty and others. Fireworks are added with the appearance of Malcolm Fox of internal affairs, or The Complaints, introduced in Rankin’s book of the same name. He is gunning for Rebus and is another spanner in Rebus’ works.
The book is familiar territory and perhaps that’s why it both works and doesn’t work, well, not entirely. It works because it’s like a meeting of old friends for a good old get together and you’re glad to be there. It doesn’t quite work because perhaps there is too much anticipation with Rebus’ return and the book doesn’t quite live up to the hype. It’s not the best Rebus ever but it’s still a good, easy read, enjoyable and intricate without getting lost in its own complexity.
It’s good, it’s recommended, it’s worth reading, especially for Rebus fans. But perhaps that’s the problem. It’s worth reading but it’s not essential reading. It has a soul but the soul isn’t quite on fire.
The ending is lacking somewhat. As another reviewer noted, you could be forgiven for thinking the culprit had been plucked from thin air. Perhaps Rankin thought he’d better start bringing the book to a close and needed someone to blame. You get the feeling Rankin is using the same technique other crime writers have famously used, namely writing the story without really knowing where it’s going and certainly not knowing ‘whodunnit’ until it dawns on them they need to start bringing the book to a conclusion.
There are a few threads left unresolved at the end and, while this in itself isn’t a crime (many crime writers leave threads unsolved), the lack in this one, the way the culprit is arrested then we’re virtually left hanging, is a little too ‘cut off’ for my liking.
One has to ask the obvious question: has Rebus been brought back to beef up Rankin’s sales? Rankin has stated that he always thought Rebus would return but just didn’t think it would be this soon.
Well worth reading, just one or two faux pas that make it good rather than great. Still, it leaves you wanting to find out what happens to Rebus and Co next and that’s surely a testament to the storytelling.
Thanks for reading.