Even Dogs in the Wild (Rebus 20) by Ian Rankin

Rebus in a deerstalker?

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

even dogs in the wildSiobhan Clarke has been called in to investigate the murder of David Minton, a former Lord Advocate (chief legal officer of the Scottish Government). At first, it looks like a robbery gone wrong, until a note is found on Lord Minton’s body – I’M GOING TO KILL YOU FOR WHAT YOU DID. That evening, as Siobhan and Malcolm Fox share dinner, they are told of a shooting in the city – the target Big Ger Cafferty, retired gangster and long-time Moriarty to Rebus’ Holmes. The shooter missed, and Cafferty is refusing to talk to the police about it, so Siobhan suggests bringing Rebus in on it as the one man to whom Cafferty is likely to open up. Problem is Rebus is now retired (again) – and so begins his new career as a ‘consulting detective’. Fox meantime has been seconded to a team through from Glasgow who are carrying out surveillance on a Glasgow gangster and his son, in Edinburgh looking for one of their employees who has betrayed them and run off with a truck-load of drugs.

The book gets off to a great start with a short prologue where two gangsters are in a forest to bury a body. But things don’t go quite to plan. It takes quite a long time for all the various strands of the book to come together, but as always Rankin handles the plotting with sure skill, meting out the information with perfect timing to keep the reader’s interest from flagging at any point. This book is more noir in feel than some of Rebus’ recent outings, being very much about the gangsters of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The thing I love most about Rankin is that his books and characters are set very much in the real, recognisable world of present-day Scotland, and that shows through in his treatment of the gangsters here. He portrays them as less relevant than they used to be, with so many of their old fields of activity having become either legalised – money-lenders now advertise their exorbitant interest rates on TV, and gambling has become brightly lit, family fun – or less lucrative, with the police more successful in preventing protection rackets, for instance. Much organised crime is now carried out via the darknet rather than on the streets. Cafferty and his Glasgow counterpart, Joe Stark, are rather outdated dinosaurs – still dangerous in the parts of society in which they operate, but not universally feared or admired as the old-time gangsters once were. Gun crime is shown as it truly is – extremely rare and not a major issue in Scottish society. (There was 1 – yes, one – gun murder in the whole of Scotland in 2014.) It’s very refreshing to get such a true picture, rather than the nonsense that fills so many books in the ‘Tartan Noir’ genre, most of which describe a society that is as realistic as Hobbiton, or as outdated as Dickens’ London.

Ian Rankin in Rebus favourite pub, the Oxford Bar. Photograph by Murdo Macleod
Ian Rankin in Rebus favourite pub, the Oxford Bar.
Photograph by Murdo Macleod

However, the book isn’t only about the warring gangsters. There is another strand that touches on a subject very much in the current news – the historical abuse of children in care homes. Again Rankin handles this with all his usual skill and sensitivity, showing not only how it affected the children at the time but how the after-effects of abuse can cascade down through generations. And he does it without resorting to shock horror tactics, voyeuristically salacious details or crocodile tears. As a result, the story feels both authentic and credible.

There is perhaps a little less reference to the political side of Scottish life than there has been in the more recent books, but I think this is a good reflection of post-referendum life, where the close result has somewhat left the nation feeling that it’s in political limbo. But the storyline touches on the power structures of both police and government, and especially on the abuse of power at the top.

Ian Rankin
Ian Rankin

This wouldn’t be one I would necessarily recommend as a starting point for newcomers to Rebus. There are so many characters from previous books in it that I think it will work best for existing fans, who understand how the relationship between Rebus and Big Ger has developed over the years. But for me, a new Rebus is always a huge treat – Rankin is so in control of his writing and plotting that reading his books is an effortless joy. Another strong entry in the series that I’m sure fans will enjoy, and great to have Rebus back in action after the long two years since the last book. Here’s hoping his ‘consulting detective’ days are not over…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Orion.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

47 thoughts on “Even Dogs in the Wild (Rebus 20) by Ian Rankin

  1. So glad to know this Rebus outing lived up to your hopes, FictionFan. I think it’s a tribute to Rankin that the story portrays modern Scottish life (both legal and not so legal) as it is, rather than as it was, or as it’s too often depicted. I’ve always liked that about Rankin’s writing; it’s realistic. And this one sounds like a well-crafted continuation of the relationship between Rebus and Cafferty as much as anything else. To me, that’s interesting in and of itself.

    • Yes, it’s his accurate portrayal of Scotland that makes him stand out for me as the best of the current crop. His stories are always strong without having to create an unrealistic world to put them in. And the ageing of Cafferty as a ‘retired’ gangster was particularly good in this one. I’m not sure how much longer he’ll be able to keep Rebus going realistically though… unless he really turns him into some kind of private ‘tec. And I’m not sure that would work…

  2. Only one gun murder in the entire country in a year’s time?? Wow, that’s an amazing statistic! Did your government ban handguns? Are Scots so religious that they’d never consider owning a weapon? Do tell what the secret is! Perhaps the U.S. needs to consult with your officials — we’re such gun-toting individualists that I can’t ever imagine folks not having guns. This book sounds like an interesting selection, FF — thanks for your most excellent review!

    • We had a horrific spree killing in a primary school about twenty years ago, and in the aftermath all hand guns were banned, along with most others – with the exception of farmers, and they have to obey really strict rules on how to secure their guns to stop them getting into the hands of nuts. Even sporting shooters have to keep their guns in gun clubs rather than at home, and licensing is incredibly strict. So we have almost no casual gun crime. As a result our police are not generally armed with guns (though there are armed response units when required, and they are armed anywhere where terrorism is likely). Professional criminals can still get hold of guns on the black market, but they generally only use them as a threat and don’t spree kill. The whole American love affair with the gun baffles me to be honest… I never want there to be another school massacre here. In fact, we’ve just passed a law to license air-guns too – and it’s my hope we’ll ban them outright in the next few years. 😀

      The Rebus books are great – a long-time favourite series…

      • I remember that massacre all too well: a nightmare. Two young family members of mine were among the survivors; some of their pals were less lucky. Mind you, some close friends of ours lost a nephew in one of the spree killings over here a few years ago.

        Like you, I completely fail to understand the American love affair with the gun. I guess it helps people shore up their personal inadequacies.

        • Oh, how awful! I remember how shocked and upset I was and I didn’t even know anyone involved. And even the survivors didn’t all come away from it unaffected, despite how young many of them were. Nope, I’ll happily give up my right to bear arms if it means that we can stop things like that from happening.

          Haha! I hope you don’t say things like that to your neighbours! I do get the historical context of why it’s gone that way in America, but I can’t understand how they can see these gun horrors week after week and not think it’s worth giving up a little bit of ‘liberty’ to stop it. Ah, well – different cultures, I suppose.

  3. Imagine getting a note that says that! Why, I’d be insulted. (Stellar review, btw.) Only one gun murder? Nice. Where did the gun come from? Out of curiosity, of course.

    Crocodile tears! *laughs lots*

  4. I have a Rebus waiting to be read later this month. Mind you, I don’t think the more recent Rebuses have quite the same brooding claustrophobia of the original (pre-Exit Music) ones.

    • Yes, I agree. I have mixed feelings about continuing the series into his retirement, but I missed him so much I’m willing to go along. But there’s no doubt it’s changed the feeling of the series. This one did feel a bit more noir to me than the last couple though. I keep intending to go back and read the early ones sometime…

    • I know – I feel the tone has changed quite a lot since Rebus retired, and to be honest might be complaining about credibility with any other writer/character. But Rankin handles it well and keeps it just the right side of believable. Can’t help wondering how much longer he can go on with it though… but any new Rebus book is a treat for me and I enjoyed this one a lot. Hope you are too!

  5. This is one series that I never took too I’m afraid,,, runs away and hides… but I do like the sound of the strand of this one that deals with the effect of historic abuse through generations. A very well balanced review as always!

  6. I’m off to hear Ian Rankin in conversation with Mark Lawson on Monday night so your review is ever so timely. I’ve been patiently waiting for this book and your review has just whetted my appetite even more!

    • Oh, that should be interesting! He always seem like an intelligent speaker whenever I’ve heard him on one of hte review shows on TV. The book is great – I’m sure you’ll enjoy it! It’s been so long since the last Rebus I’ve been having withdrawal symptoms… 😉

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