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by Ian Rankin
Little, Brown, September 2004
400 pages
ISBN: 0316009105

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Back in the early days of the Rebus novels, when it only took a few months to write one, Ian Rankin had just moved to France and found that even in rural France, he and his growing family needed more money. So he wrote thrillers under the name of Jack Harvey. WITCH HUNT was the first of these. It was first published in 1991, but doesn't show its age.

It opens with a builder who owns a yacht, picking up a mysterious female from another boat off the coast of England. He has been offered 5000 for the operation, and he readily accepts because he is deep in debt and really needs the money. He has been told to drop the passenger and then head back out to sea and approach his home port from a different direction. Before he can reach his home berth, his yacht explodes, killing the owner and his deck hand. The woman apparently disappears into the countryside,

The next day, one of the workers in the Collator's Office, whose job it is to feed news articles into a computer hoping that some correlations can be performed that will help solve crimes, is reading a French newspaper in which he discovers that a boat had sunk 20 miles off Calais. He had just fed the news of the sinking of the Cassandra Christa off the English coast. He sends the information upstairs, until it finally reaches a member of the Special Branch who remembers a similar incident in Japan six years earlier. He gets out the file labeled WITCH.

A retired MI5 detective is called back in, since he compiled the most complete file on Witch, as the female assassin has been named. Both MI5 and Scotland Yard must find Witch before she strikes again, causing chaos, as it is thought her target will be one of the high-ranking statesmen coming to England to a conference at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London (One of the ugliest of the ugly postwar buildings in England, and built in an inappropriate place.)

WITCH HUNT takes us out of Rebus country into England and France, but we still have the same kind of flawed characters, trying to do their best, and a heart-stopping story of three men chasing an assassin, while the retired detective mentors a newbie in MI5. I was not disappointed, but then I've been a Rebus fan ever since Thalia at the late lamented CRIME IN STORE turned me on to him many years ago. Finally, with the release of WITCH HUNT, those of us who avoided the Jack Harvey titles can now enjoy at least the first one,

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, July 2004

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