Monday 17 December 2012

Book review: "Standing in another man's grave", by Ian Rankin.

In 2007 Ian Rankin completed his Rebus series, when he sent the eponymous detective into retirement in Edinburgh. As a fan of Rankin's works, I was rather dismayed by the next two books, which featured Malcolm Fox, working in the Complaints and Conduct Department of Lothian Police.

Fox was the antithesis of Rebus: a non-drinker (although ex-alcoholic), who does everything obsessively by the book. Somehow the two Fox books did not hold the same appeal for me as Rebus, and it was therefore with some joy that I heard that Rankin was bringing back Rebus in 'Standing in another man's grave'.

The book sees Rebus retired form the police, but working as a civilian in the cold cases department. One case involves a girl who disappeared on the A9 road ten years earlier, and this leads Rebus onto the trail of a serial killer. His investigation takes him back towards his ex-colleague, Siobhan, and also to the attention of Malcolm Fox and the Complaints department.

So far,so good. The plotline has plenty of opportunities for Rebus to do his classic bending and breaking of the rules, for arguments with senior police officers, and to display his single-minded doggedness.

Yet there are two fundamental problems that somewhat spoil this book.

Firstly, the subplot featuring Malcolm Fox never really takes off, and could have been left out without any harm to the narrative. Rankin should have given Fox a much bigger role or none at all. If Fox was to be featured, then he should have really placed Rebus's future and even liberty in serious jeopardy.

Secondly, the music references grate. Rankin has always placed musical references into his work, including naming many of his books after song titles. For instance earlier Rebus books such as "Exit Music", or "Let it Bleed".

Yet in his latest book, Rankin goes into musical overdrive. Large chunks of the book seem overwhelmed by musical references, most by a musician friend of Rankin's who died recently. He dismissively rejects Siobhan's choice of Kate Bush, and instead continues playing the same seventies-style rock. Within a few chapters the references to the music gets more than a little wearying.

Worse, the music references have little connection with either the plot, character or location; instead, it reads like the author's whims are showing through. You learn nothing about Rebus through the music, especially as the subject has been done to a death in previous books.

Despite these problems, there is plenty of the old Rebus magic in the book. The plot involves Rebus taking long drives throughout Scotland, and the places he sees and people he meets on the way are evocatively described. Rebus himself is his old self, willing to break the rules and upset friends in order to get results.

All in all, this book formed a welcome return to Rebus. But what could have been a delightful book was let down by a few grating missteps by the author.

I award this book 3 out of 5 stars.

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