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by Ian Rankin
St. Martin's Minotaur, August 2000
488 pages
ISBN: 0312974205

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Ian Rankin ( Set in Darkness , Rebus: The Early Years , Death Is Not The End ,The Hanging Garden, Herbert In Motion and other stories , Black and Blue , Let it Bleed, The Jack Harvey Novels to name just a few of this author's books) is a superbly gifted Scottish writer. His engrossing Inspector John Rebus series has received well deserved critical encomium.

John Rebus is of equal rank to another fictional creation, Colin Dexter's Inspector E. Morse (out of consideration for those who have not read the novel in which Morse's given name is revealed, I will not disclose the secret). Like Morse, his is a dour nature: unlike Morse, he has a family, or at least a daughter, Sammy, to whom he is devoted. Like Morse, he is a rule breaker, running counter to authority in his investigations; at once loved and loathed by his superiors.

The series is set in Edinburgh and Rankin displays an unnerving knowledge of, seemingly, How Crime Works there.

In the prologue to the book, the suicide of one of Rebus' colleagues is detailed. Or was it suicide?Another thread of the novel is followed when Rebus, contrary to the aim of his stakeout, chases a newly released paedophile, Darren Rough, at the Edinburgh Zoo, when Rebus is supposed to be trying to catch someone who has been poisoning the animals. Rebus is also approached by a woman who was his sweetheart when they were both at school: Janice Mee's son, Damon, has gone missing. Rebus helps Janice in her attempts to locate her son, despite being told by his bosses that it is not his investigation and is, in any case, a hopeless quest.

Something that is Rebus' job is keeping tabs on convicted killer Cary Oakes, newly released from an American prison but deported back to Britain. Why has Oakes returned to Edinburgh? What are his motives in selling his story to a journalist - and just how true is the story he has sold?

Inspector Rebus pursues all the threads of the narrative, some of which are interwoven, others unrelated. He has to confront his own emotions as the safety of his daughter, already crippled in a previous novel, and his lover, Patience, is threatened, as well as his own wellbeing. He must also try to make amends for the dire results of his own ill-considered actions in that they have very different consequences from those he envisaged to someone whose nature he has not, perhaps, fully appreciated.

Rankin's characters are never sketchily drawn. I found my hair standing on end while reading of Cary Oakes' violent and absolutely brutal and amoral deeds. The present echoes of past actions are reflected in Rebus' search for understanding and solution.

I don't think I have ever read one of Rankin's books with an optimistic outlook. Certainly this book is no exception to that rule. Paedophilia is a distasteful subject and mystery lovers with an objection to reading about such a topic would be advised to avoid this book. Nevertheless, it is a real, if not much spoken of, occurrence in our society as is incest. Despite the distastefulness of such topics one must ask oneself just what theme in crime fiction is pleasant?

Rebus' developing life is followed from book to book, yet we are not left with an obvious 'hook' urging us to pursue his further adventures. The lure in understated but very tempting.

For excitement, pace, plot and excellent writing, this book should be read by anyone with a taste for more than easy and superficial perusal.

Editor's Note: This is a review of the Australian hardcover edition (Orion, 1999)

Reviewed by Denise Wels

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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