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by Ian Rankin
Orion, November 2016
354 pages
$32.00 CAD
ISBN: 1409159418

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

John Rebus is retired, but he can't let go: he fills his days looking at unsolved cases from decades earlier. One in particular has caught his attention: in 1978 Maria Turquand had been strangled in a room at the Caledonian Hotel. She had had a string of lovers, and performing at the Caley that night had been a well-known band. Some of its members came under suspicion. The crime had received a lot of media play at the time, a journalist even writing a book about it. But nothing had come of it, and the case withered in the archives of Police Scotland as Unsolved. It niggles away at Rebus, who hates loose ends.

But Rebus is finding it difficult to make any headway – at least until a deal comes his way. Local gangster Darryl Christie has been given a good thumping one night in his own driveway, and DI Siobhan Clarke has been handed the case. Christie's natural enemy is Big Ger Cafferty, who controlled crime in Edinburgh until Christie appeared on the scene. He's an obvious suspect, but Clarke knows that he won't open up to anyone but Rebus. She seeks his help, but Rebus has a price: he wants access to all the files concerning the murder of Maria Turquand.

In the cloistered city of Edinburgh everything and everyone is connected, and Rebus must navigate a labyrinth of friendships — and enmities — reaching back decades. All the while he must wrestle with a previously unknown foe who may very well kill him.

I've said it before: Ian Rankin represents the high-water mark of contemporary crime writing, British or otherwise. In over thirty novels, plays, and short story collections he has treated readers to refreshingly original, atmospheric tales marked by taut plotting and crackling dialogue. He excels at depicting the cat-and-dog posturing of adversaries, the escalation extending even to include friends. Consider this exchange between Rebus and Malcolm Fox, a colleague who once investigated him for unprofessional conduct:

They sat in silence for a few moments, concentrating on their drinks. There was another tap at the window, a further invitation for Rebus to step outside. He shook his head and mouthed the word ‘No.'

'Am I really seeing this?' Fox said. ‘You've packed in the cigs?'

'Call it a trial separation,' Rebus replied.

'Bloody hell. I need to sell my tobacco shares.'

'I think it's great,' Clarke said.

'Though it wipes out about the only hobby he had,' Fox countered.

Whether he's confronting crime kingpins or baiting his colleagues at Police Scotland, Rebus is his own man, and can't seem to resist a quick jibe that sets off everyone around him. It's a trademark of Rankin's novels, one of many high points in his writing, and after three decades he's still the very best at it.

§ Since 2005 Jim Napier's reviews and interviews have appeared in several Canadian newspapers and on various crime fiction and literary websites, including his own award-winning site, Deadly Diversions. He can be reached at jnapier@deadlydiversions.com

Reviewed by Jim Napier, November 2016

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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