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This is a capacious book chock full of captivating plots and sub-plots, peopled by unique and singular characters, that takes place in a city that broods gloomily over them all. Its central figure, D.I. John Rebus, is an outsider in every sense of the word. He follows in the tradition of Inspector Morse and Jack Frost. He goes his own way. He wants to solve the crime himself, not as a member of a team. He takes risks and uses illicit means to achieve results. He is a maverick and dangerously close to being an alcoholic, if he is not already there. He is, in so many ways, self-destructive and yet we cannot help but like and identify with him. I suppose he appeals to the part in all of us that would like to give the finger to authority and act outside the dotted line.
Philippa Balfour, a student albeit an uncommon one, has gone missing. Her father is the head of Balfour Bank, a prestigious and powerful institution. Her quondam boyfriend is David Costello, himself the scion of a wealthy family. There is little these two students must do without. The longer Philippa is missing, of course, the better the chance that she is dead and the police badly want to find her as soon as possible.
The new Chief Superintendent is Gill Templer, a woman and a onetime lover of Rebus. She is on trial, of course, and desperately wants to succeed at her first big case. One of the mesmerizing subplots in this novel concerns the politics of the police force. There are sides, with people lining up in favor and opposed. DC Siobhan Clarke is one of Templerís proteges, although Clarke has worked with Rebus in the past.
Rebus is a headache waiting to happen for Templer, a loose cannon. Templer is not happy with Ellen Wylie And puts her in an untenable position. DC Grant Hood is a constable on the make. The interplay between these and the other police spice and flavor to the book.
Two other subplots are most enthralling. One involves the small wooden coffin that was found at the Falls near where Philippa had lived. There had been other instances of a coffin being discovered near the scene of a crime and a number of small coffins dating from the nineteenth century had been found on Arthurís Seat. This leads into the chronicle of the resurrectionists, Burke and Hare. The other subplot comprises a game being played by e-mail which Siobhan discovers on Philippaís computer
and proceeds to try to play herself. She receives clues from a shadowy figure known as the Quizmaster. Both seem like red herrings, but then, you never know.
This book has an extraordinary sense of place. I have visited Edinburgh and I could see the streets, the Royal Mile winding its way down from the Castle to Holyrood Palace, the New Town, the bridges, the narrow little streets. It forms a perfect backdrop to a singular story. Rebus is ambivalent about Edinburgh, just as he is ambivalent about the flat he wants to sell. It is a beautiful city, but a treacherous one.
The writing is superb. The characters come to life and march off the pages. The story will keep you riveted until the very end. This is a great book and I highly recommend it.
Reviewed by Sally Fellows
Phillipa "Flip" Balfour has gone missing, and because her father is an influential man, a banker, the Edinburgh police have set a full complement of detectives to find her. John Rebus, the maverick, and DC Siobhan Clarke have been sent to interview Flip's boyfriend, David Costello. The investigation is complicated by the retirement of his boss, Detective Chief Constable "Farmer" Watson, with whom he has had a long and interesting relationship. Watson is being replaced by DCI Gill Templer, a woman trying to break through into the highest reaches of the police, and with whom Rebus had a fling some time in the past.
Beverly Dodds, a potter, finds a primitive doll in a coffin near a stream in Falls, the town in which the Balfour's maintain their Scottish residence. Jean Burchell, a curator of the Museum of Scotland, and a friend of Templer's, is brought into the investigation. She tells Rebus of the 17 tiny coffins containing dolls, found by children in 1836, 8 of which are in the museum. The coffins have been tied to Burke and Hare, who killed 17 people and sold their bodies to the anatomists, With a little more research, Rebus finds more tiny coffins found near the site of other mysterious deaths.
It appears that Flip was playing some sort of game on the internet. Clarke plugs into this source and follows the clues set by the Quizmaster, the same clues that Balfour had followed. While Siobhan is trying to figure out the answers, Flip's body is found on a hillside in Edinburgh.
Rebus is still very introspective and frequently acts alone and against orders, but he watches his protÈgÈe, Clarke, beginning to be able to think and act on her own. He has to try and work with a new boss, and to try and open up to his new lover. There are many decisions he has to make before retirement, which is only a few years away. Edinburgh looms over all, like another character in the story. Rankin is one of those few gifted authors who can make characters and situations live while giving a strong sense of place.
Reviewed by Barbara Franchi
Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, January 2002
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