Review by Tracey Sinclair.
It’s been about 4 years since Ian Rankin’s most famous creation, the Scottish policeman John Rebus, bowed out from the force in Exit Music. Since then Rankin has written some standalone books and embarked on another series (The Complaints, featuring ‘internal affairs’ investigator Malcolm Fox) but nothing has come close to capturing the magic of the grumpy, intractable, music-loving copper that made the author’s fortune.
It’s a relief, then, that the raising of the retirement age for the police in Scotland has opened the door for Rebus’ return – and though this isn’t, perhaps, the most compelling of Rankin’s novels in terms of storytelling, readers are likely to be too pleased to see this beloved character again to care. We find Rebus as difficult and curmudgeonly as ever, spending his time working on cold cases in a soon-to-be-defunct unit, while considering re-applying to CID now his age is no longer a barrier. When an old case turns out to have links to a current disappearance, Rebus finds himself in the thick of the action once more – but is there any place in the modern force for a dinosaur like Rebus? Malcolm Fox, at least, thinks not.
If you’re a long-term fan of the Rebus books, you’ll be thrilled that he hasn’t changed at all, and the equally unflappable Siobhan Clarke is just one of the familiar faces who put in an appearance. Rankin’s skill has always been to make the reader feel that the characters actually exist out there, and we just get to look in on them occasionally (grounded by a solid sense of location – anyone who knows Edinburgh at all will recognise the book’s detailed backdrop). This is captured beautifully here: there’s a strong feeling that while Rankin may not have been paying attention to him, Rebus has been getting on with his life anyway. It’s telling, too, that in the face off between Fox and Rebus, even the author seems on Rebus’ side – so here’s hoping that this return isn’t a one off, and that there’s some mileage left in the old warhorse yet.