Saints of The Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin (Orion Books £18.99), reviewed by What's On North's Calum Macleod
UNLIKE his previous novel, Standing in Another Man’s Grave, there seems to be little influence of Ian Rankin’s recent Highland residency in his newest return to the dark world of John Rebus.
Last year’s book sent his hero north along the A9 and into the Black Isle, where Rankin himself has a home. In contrast, this novel keeps Rebus close to his Edinburgh home patch where the greatest journey is not a geographical one, but a trip back into the past as Rankin takes Rebus full circle.
Once again a detective sergeant, as he was when we first met him in Knots and Crosses back in 1987, the demotion is the price Rebus has to pay for getting back onto the force. With a change in the rules allowing him back into the force, former protégé Siobhan Clarke is now his superior.
The story also takes Rebus back to a time when he was young police officer, part of a tight knit group of detectives based at Summerhall station, the titular Saints, given to regarding rules and regulations more as guidelines.
As is typical with Rankin, politics casts a shadow over Rebus and his workload. As Lothian and Borders Constabulary gives way to the new Police Scotland, battle lines are being drawn up in the independence debate. A change in the law allows the Solicitor General to re-visit a murder case involving one of the Saints’ old informers.
It is no coincidence that one of the Saints is now a successful businessman and a major backer in the referendum’s No campaign, although Rankin also has a couple of anti-independence policemen wonder if they can make political capital out of a car accident linked to a SNP minister.
The investigation into his past colleagues brings him once more into the orbit of Malcolm Fox of the Complaints, the hated department who police the police.
Rankin seems to be making up for Fox’s cameo in Standing in Another Man’s Grave where, seen from Rebus’s viewpoint, he was very much the bad guy, disappointing those readers who had warmed to the more straight-laced tea-totaller over the two books where he has the lead role, The Complaints and The Impossible Dead.
The two are forced into working together, resulting in a grudging respect while Fox faces his own form of redemption as the investigation allows him to begin his escape from the hated Complaints into CID — getting back to being "a real detective" as Rebus would put it.
There are even hints of an attraction between Fox and Siobhan, though with Rankin announcing a year off from writing and Rebus on the verge of retirement yet again, it remains to be seen how this might develop.
Rebus may be feeling his age as he comes off the worst in the face of young thugs, but Rankin himself is in fine form. For all the various threads — recent and past murders, that mysterious car crash and Rebus’s uneasy relationship with the surviving Saints — it all ties together in a more satisfying manner than Standing in Another Man’s Grave, Rankin’s nuanced characters making the plot plausible and a dry mordant only adding to the sheer readability.
• Ian Rankin will be signing copies of his latest novel from 11am at Waterstones’ Inverness branch in the city’s Eastgate Centre on Saturday 14th December.
He will also be taking part in the second Cromarty Crime and Thrillers Weekend over the weekend of Friday 25th to Sunday 27th April 2014, alongside fellow "tartan noir" authors Ann Cleeves, Lin Anderson, Alex Grey and Stuart McBride.