One night, a few years ago, I was home watching Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. He was visiting Scotland, eating fish & chips, drinking whiskey, and chatting with the locals. And then he introduced his companion for touring Edinburgh — an author I had never heard of named Ian Rankin. Bourdain was a self-professed fan boy, and mentioned that James Ellroy had dubbed Rankin the father of “tartan noir”. As an enormous Ellroy fan, I couldn’t get past this highest of compliments. I went to the library the very next day and checked out the first of Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels, Knots and Crosses. And then I DEVOURED the entire series over the next few months. I loved them. The books were brilliant — dark, realistic portraits of the life of an aging detective (with far too many vices) in Edinburgh. When Rankin decided to retire Inspector Rebus for good, I was devastated.
And then, last year, he brought Rebus back for one last adventure, and I’m so glad he did.
Rebus is of the old-school. He drinks. He smokes. He eats lots of bacon. His ex wife and daughter don’t have much to do with him. He listens to a lot of classic rock on vinyl. And he does his police work by talking to people instead of using the internet or other modern techniques.
Standing in Another Man’s Grave isn’t the greatest Rebus book (I’d say that would have to be The Hanging Garden), but its a fantastic look at what its like to get older. John Rebus is no longer an official member of the police. He works in the cold case department as a temporary employee, and sees very few of his old colleagues and friends. Some of them are dying off, some of them have retired to the countryside, and those that are still on the force don’t want much to do with him, as he still carries a reputation as a bit of a troublemaker. He still drinks and smokes way too much, and he still has the tendency to piss off his superiors at any and all opportunity.
Rebus finds himself working a cold case about a girl taken from the highway in Northern Scotland and starts to put together pieces from other cold cases that have similar details. When his trail leads to the recent case of a missing teen girl, he is temporarily brought back to the police force and placed with his old partner, the wonderful Siobhan Clarke. Together they travel across the Scottish countryside to try and figure out who is abducting (and probably murdering) these teenage girls.
Rankin rarely provides a happy ending to his stories, and this case was no different. But the writing and the characters are so vibrant and alive, its really almost as if you are right there in Scotland.
I loved that Rebus’ story isn’t over yet, and look forward to seeing Rankin at a local bookshop in February.
If you like James Ellroy, Dennis Lehane, or Michael Connelly, I recommend you give Ian Rankin a try.