“A nearly impenetrable thicket of geekitude…”

Miscellaneous Reading, 2019

This is the last in a series of posts commenting on books I read during 2019. The series is as follows:


Ian Rankin’s books about Edinburgh CID Inspector John Rebus have been one of the few mainstream crime series that I have followed down the years. I live in Rebus’ city, of course, and know a lot of the local landmarks (and pubs) mentioned in the stories. I also have to admit to some sympathy for him because of his very Scottish diet and his choice of an ageing Saab 900 for transport.

After Rebus retired in Exit Music, I hoped that Rankin’s new character Malcolm Fox (initially portrayed very much as the anti-Rebus in his position as part of Edinburgh Police internal affairs in The Complaints) would be able to act as a substitute. Fox never really gelled for me, though, and I stopped paying attention. That was in 2009 or so.

Imagine my delight, then, to realise ten years later that I had no less than five fresh Rebus novels waiting for me. I’ve read all of these this year (not consecutively, but at least in order) and although the Rebus series really does have to end sometime soon (his physical condition is deteriorating in step with his Saab’s, which now seems to be on its last legs) I reckon there are a couple more books in him at least.

Standing in Another Man’s Grave brings Rebus back as a civilian to the cold cases unit, and up against Malcolm Fox, who still works for internal affairs and has every reason to investigate Rebus for his past indiscretions. This relationship develops through the remaining books; Fox leaves internal affairs to return to CID and starts working alongside Rebus instead of investigating him. The gradual erosion of his principles as he is drawn into Rebus’s dubious orbit makes him much more interesting than when he was originally introduced as a solo character.

After a brief return to the force in Saints of the Shadow Bible, Rebus retires permanently and the subsequent books have him lurking around the edges of his old job, keeping in touch with Siobhan Clarke and Malcolm Fox — who increasingly become point of view characters in the stories — and involving himself in cases wherever he has some tenuous excuse, often related to his involvement in old unsolved cases.

Rebus is still dancing around “Big Ger” Cafferty in a more and more co-dependent relationship of information exchange, favours and — one day, Rebus hopes — Cafferty finally making the mistake that will allow Rebus to put him away. It hasn’t happened yet, but perhaps…

Even Dogs in the Wild is notable for its introduction of a new recurring character: Brillo, a stray dog Rebus adopts after failing to get anyone else to take care of it. I was surprised when this happened, as Rebus doesn’t cultivate a “big softie” reputation, but perhaps “someone needs to do the right thing here” is a way of looking at it as really in character for him.