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When the ‘double jeopardy’ law is relaxed, the Solicitor General asks Malcolm Fox to reinvestigate a case from the ’80s, one involving a young DC Rebus. It had been thought at the time that the officers of Summerhall had tampered with the evidence to allow a murderer to go free – a murderer who also happened to be an informer to the head of the Summerhall team. Meantime, in the present day, Siobhan Clarke and Rebus are back working as a team. With the new rules on retirement age, Rebus has been taken back into CID but has had to take a downgrading to Detective Sergeant, meaning Siobhan now outranks him. They are called out to what looks at first like a straightforward road accident, but a couple of things about the scene make them suspect there may be more to it than that.
When I try to pin down why Rankin is head and shoulders above most crime writers, it really comes down to two things. Firstly, the quality of his writing never wavers – he knows how to tell a good story, his pacing is superb and his plots are always both complex and believable. His characterisation is second to none – Rebus and Clarke have been real people to us for years now, people we feel we know, and Fox is rapidly joining them as just as important a character. They don’t perform superhuman feats, nor does every book end with them being saved from hideous danger. There is a realism that makes us believe this is how the police really work – we’ve even seen Rebus over the years learning to toe the line as the Police Force has tightened up on mavericks and corruption in real life.
Secondly, Rankin has his finger on the political pulse of Scotland – his books always relate to the main concerns of the day, without ever obsessing about them and without ever taking a stance. In this book, there are three parts of the plot that could only be written about at this point in time – the change to ‘double jeopardy’, the reorganisation of the various regional police forces in Scotland into one national force and, most of all, the campaign for the Scottish Independence referendum. Rankin doesn’t beat us about the head with these; he just works them through the plot, as they are worked through Scottish society. So as well as telling a first-rate crime story, Rankin also reflects our society back to us – again, total realism.
I admit it – Rankin always gets five stars from me. When I pick up one of his books, it’s in the comfortable knowledge that it will be great. So when I say that this one is the best of his that I’ve read in years, how can I convince you? I could tell you that we’re beginning to get a nostalgic, elegiac strain running through Rebus’ story; that we’re seeing Siobhan blossom into the fine senior officer we, like Rebus, have always known she would be; that Fox, now moving out of Complaints into CID, is learning to appreciate the basic integrity that underpins Rebus’ sometimes casual disregard for the rules. I could say that reading this book will let you understand how the City of Edinburgh is changing now it’s a political capital; how the upcoming referendum is filtering through every aspect of Scottish life; how policing methods are changing in this new millennium. Or I could just say this is a well-written enjoyable police procedural with a complex plot that will keep you guessing throughout. But, in short, what I will say is – read the book. Read the book!