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The cover of my copy of SAINTS OF THE SHADOW BIBLE poses what must be meant as a rhetorical question: "Rebus: Saint or Sinner?" If the terms exclude one another, there can only be one possible answer - Rebus: Sinner. But in fact, he is also a Saint, that is, a former member of a group of detectives working out of the Summerhall station who swore an oath of loyalty to one another on a impressively-bound copy of SCOTTISH LAW. That was more than thirty years ago, in "another country," as Rebus points out, a time when police viewed corners as made to be cut and a sharp clip round a villain's ear (or worse) was SOP.
Much has changed in the intervening years. "Another country" may be about literally to emerge as the campaign for Scotland's independence is very much part of the background noise here. Rebus himself has come back from his compulsory retirement at 60 to act briefly as a civilian consultant on cold cases, and now to full reinstatement on the force, since the age of retirement has been raised. Well, not quite full reinstatement. Rebus is now reduced to Detective Sergeant - there are too many Detective Inspectors on the books, he is told - and thus he is now subordinate to his old colleague DI Siobhan Clarke.
But he is not to leave either his past or the cold cases altogether behind him. A new law now allows old acquittals to be re-prosecuted if new evidence has turned up - the principle of double jeopardy is no longer sacrosanct. The new Solicitor General is looking into a case in which one Billy Saunders was tried for beating another man to death. The case collapsed because of sloppiness and errors on the part of Summerhall CID, errors now retrospectively seen to have been deliberately contrived so that Saunders, a snitch, would not be convicted.
Rebus, at the time a very recent member of the squad at Summerhall, was not directly involved in any of this, but he remains close to his colleagues who were. Thus he appears a likely source of information to the man the Solicitor General has picked to investigate the old case - Malcolm Fox, whose job in the Complaints or what Americans call Internal Affairs is coming to an end. Though Fox is far from convinced that Rebus has not been a dirty cop in his time, still needs must...so he enlists Siobhan to try to get Rebus to cooperate with his enquiries. Which, rather surprisingly, he more or less does.
This is not to suggest that Rebus is rolling over and playing nice. But his reinstatement is important to him - indeed, we feel he cannot exist outside the police force, so he restrains his subversive instincts to a certain degree. Further, he has to admit to himself at least that he has much to regret in his past and that some of what went on in the early days at Summerhall was far from defensible. He has come to that stage in life when he is beginning to take stock of his past and it is a sobering moment indeed. One indication of the changes that are overtaking Rebus is that on several occasions, he leaves a half-finished pint of IPA behind on a pub table and on others actually consumes lime and fizzy water in lieu of stronger stuff.
At the heart of this book is what is going on between Rebus and Fox as each approaches the other warily. Neither can entirely trust the other, nor can they dismiss each other out of hand. The younger man is about to move back to the CID, where he will have to work with men and women whom he investigated one time or another. Rebus can offer him some semblance of protection as he makes the move. And Rebus wants to stay on the job as long as he can; gaining Fox's support can only help. In the end, both characters seem more nuanced than they have been in earlier appearances. Fox is less censorious, less quick to assume the worst; Rebus, now reporting to the woman to whom he taught policing, tries to keep his native recalcitrance in check.
Does this mean that the Rebus of old is gone for good? Not at all. The main narrative is bookended by a prologue and an epilogue that make it very clear that Rebus can still claim membership in the Saints of the Shadow Bible.
Although I do not know how long Rankin can keep Rebus going as he moves through his 60s, I, like so many others, am reluctant to see him go. SAINTS OF THE SHADOW BIBLE is right up there with the best in the series and very far from the mixture as before. Too often, attempts to resurrect a character fall short of the mark. Not this time. And not this Rebus.
§ Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.
Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, November 2013
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