Ian Rankin is one of the best authors of police procedurals writing today. A few years back, he retired his chief protagonist, Detective Inspector John Rebus, Rebus having reached mandatory retirement age. Fans mourned. Rankin kept writing, just not about Rebus.
Rebus is back, and Standing in Another Man’s Grave is a grand story.
Rebus is not the most sympathetic of heroes. He’s always disheveled, looking like he slept in his clothes (and he often does). He somehow manages to subsist on a diet of cigarettes, alcohol, and “crisps” (chips). He’s in trouble with his superiors more often than not, and manages to remain politically incorrect in an era of political correctness run amuck. He often consorts with organized crime figures. Even he recognizes what a dinosaur he is.
The problem he, Rebus gets results. Rebus solves crimes. And it’s hard to argue with success.
The mandatory retirement age has changed, and Rebus finds himself back in police service, assigned to a dead-end department for unsolved crimes. He’s hoping to return to regular police work; rumor has it that he’s applied for a position.
A teenaged girl has gone missing. Her family has ties to organized crime elements. Rebus thinks the disappearance may be similar to others from years before. Subsequent events in the investigation probe him right, and he’s “attached” (temporarily assigned) to the main investigation. Non-orthodox police work ensues.
Part of the enjoyment of reading an Ian Rankin novel is to watch Rebus resist approved police procedures, maneuver around his superiors, flout the rules, make mistakes, overlook the obvious, and discover what others don’t see. A Rebus novel is often less about a crime being investigated and more about how John Rebus in involved in a crime being investigated.
The investigation of the missing girl moves forward, aided and abetted by the internet. When bodies are found in a mass grave, the investigation becomes surrounded by a media circus. And in spite of the opposition of everyone he’s working with, and being ordered off the team, Rebus begins to close in on a suspect.
Standing in Another Man’s Grave is tightly written and fast-paced. The often cited Scot names, places and words don’t distract (a good map of Scotland will help). In the hands of a lesser writer, all of the Scot references might have been troublesome.
We end the book as we begin it – watching John Rebus, recognizing and understanding his all-too-obvious flaws, and cheering him on to prevail over villains, his own police department, gangsters and thugs. We admire his iconoclasm, his natural tendency to resist authority, and his impatience with bureaucracy. John Rebus is us.
And we’re glad he’s back.