By Ian Rankin (read By James Macpherson) – Working my way through the mystery and thriller-writers’ “best of” lists for 2013, I found myself once again in the thrall of Edinburgh detective John Rebus. In this book he is retired and languishing as a civilian in the soon-to-be-dismantled Cold Cases unit but emerges into the light of day when the disappearances of two young women suggest a connection with one of his dusty files. Then we’re hurtle pell-mell into fine-honed police procedural territory. Rebus is one of those complex, cynical characters you never tire of, and Rankin’s story is a good one.
I was tempted to pair this review with that of C.J. Box’s The Highway (reviewed 9/29), partly because of superficial plot similarities, but mostly because of the profoundly different reader experiences they evoke. Both are about a serial killer of women, hiding in a small town where he’s known and the frantic effort to find him just in case his most recent victim is still alive. The similarity stops there. Now I know why agents and publishers tell authors not to send them manuscripts written from the evil protagonist’s point of view. The Highway put me off entirely.
Rebus scolds himself (ineffectually) for his bad behavior, and his long-time partner Siobhan Clarke despairs. “He’s not a team player—never was, never will be,” said New York Times reviewer Marilyn Stasio, and naturally that puts him perpetually on very thin ice in the police department and is an endless source of reader enjoyment as he skates circles around the plodding conformists. It will be interesting to see how Rankin triple Axels his way into cases henceforth. Also, Macpherson’s reading is super!
A number of Rebus novels have been turned into UK television programs. The ones featuring Ken Stott as Rebus are considered the best and the only ones I’ve seen. Also entertaining.