Rather be the Devil (Rebus 21) by Ian Rankin

Hail! Hail! The gang’s all here… 

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

While Rebus is having dinner with his long-term girlfriend, forensic pathologist Deborah Quant, in the Caledonian Hotel, he tells her of a murder that took place there years ago, when a famous rock star and his entourage were staying in the hotel – a woman who, it appeared, was probably murdered by her lover, except that the lover had an alibi. The murder was never solved and, as he tells the story, Rebus’s interest in it revives. Time for a little amateur sleuthing! Meantime, gangster Darryl Christie has been beaten up and Siobhan is on the case. The obvious suspect is Big Ger Cafferty, the older gangster whom Darryl has pushed aside, but Cafferty hints to Rebus that there’s a Russian connection. (No, fear not, Comrade Trump isn’t in it!) Malcolm Fox has been moved to the Specialist Crime Division in Gartcosh. They are quietly looking into some of Darryl’s business interests and reckon the investigation into his beating will be a good opportunity to nose around his affairs, so Malcolm is sent back through to Edinburgh to liaise with Siobhan. And so the scene is set for another full-cast outing, all the detectives and gangsters gathered together one more time.

Ian Rankin

Anyone who’s been reading my reviews for a while will know that Rebus is up there at the top of my list of favourite detectives, and Ian Rankin can really do no wrong in my eyes. As always, the plotting is great, with the various strands crossing and interconnecting. The old murder story is a traditional whodunit, where alibis and motives are key, while the gangster story allows for plenty of action and a good, believable thriller ending. There’s lots of room for the regulars to interact with each other, which is always one of the major joys of the books – tension between Siobhan and Malcolm because she’s jealous of his move to Gartcosh, concern over Rebus’s health as he undergoes some tests, and Rebus and Big Ger continuing their roles as the elder statesmen of policing and crime, running rings around the young’uns as usual.

However, in truth, I couldn’t help but notice that there are a good deal of similarities to the last book. The rivalry among Darryl, Big Ger and their Glasgow counterpart, Joe Stark, has been rumbling through a few books now, and shows no signs of coming to a conclusion. In retirement, it’s harder to create reasons for Rebus to be involved, and the excuse of Big Ger only being willing to deal with him is becoming a little worn. I hate to say it because I love the old man so much, but I think it’s time to let Rebus go and allow Siobhan and Malcolm to take over as the lead characters. Either that, or Rankin should break his own rule and take us back in time to revisit Rebus as a younger man, when he was still on the force. That’s not to suggest I didn’t enjoy this one – I did, thoroughly, and I’m sure other Rebus fans will too. But this and the last one have felt like encores, given as a treat to those who’ve watched the whole show and want a little bit more. And I think it would be better if Rebus left the stage while the audience is still applauding.

James Macpherson

I listened to the Audible audiobook version of this, narrated by James Macpherson whom some of you will remember as Chief Inspector Michael Jardine in the long-running STV series, Taggart. I’d listened to him narrate Rebus before, in the short story collection The Beat Goes On, so knew he’d be good. But actually he’s even better in this one – the length allows him to create different personalities for all the characters, and his range of Scottish accents and voices is fabulous. From posh Morningside gents to wee Glesca nyaffs, he can do them all brilliantly! He has a real understanding of the recurring characters, so his interpretation never jars. And his timing for the humour is perfect – he often made me laugh out loud. I heartily recommend his readings to any Rebus fans out there – I can’t imagine a better narrator for them, and fully intend to back track and listen to his readings of some of the older books.

For anyone coming new to the series, I’d definitely recommend starting much further back – this one depends to a large extent on familiarity with all the relationships amongst the regulars. But for existing Rebus fans, another thoroughly enjoyable book. Rankin writing and Macpherson narrating are a dream team – pure pleasure! Highly recommended.

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53 thoughts on “Rather be the Devil (Rebus 21) by Ian Rankin

  1. Hurrah for Rebus! I’m with you, FF, Rebus is one of my favourites and Rankin is an absolute legend. I can tolerate the flimsy reasons for Rebus being brought in on cases because I love the character and books so much, but it would indeed be a shame for Rankin to stretch things out too far. Love the idea of a young Rebus series! 😀

    • Thank you! 😀 I love the series, mainly because of grumpy old Rebus but also because they really always get the feeling of whatever’s important in Scotland at the time they were written – I’m sure one day they’ll be studied by historians! If you start at number one, you’ll catch up in no time – there’s only 21 of them… 😉

  2. That’s the thing, isn’t it, FictionFan? On the one hand, it’s authentic to have Rebus age over the series, leave, etc… On the other hand, it leaves Rankin (and Rebus) in an awkward position. How does he keep ‘dealing Rebus in’ under the circumstances? And what direction will the series take if he doesn’t? I’m not sure I’d want a prequel, but it’ll be interesting to see where Rankin goes with this.

    • Yes, it’s a problem in these days when we demand a bit more realism – Poirot must have been about 140 by the end! But because Rankin made a point of ageing Rebus in real time, it is becoming pretty unrealistic now – and this series was always noted for it’s credibility. A thorny problem…

  3. Glad you enjoyed this one, I’d hate to see the series go out with a whimper. I’ll have to start catching up, I missed one when it came out, and before I knew it I had a pile unread.

  4. This one sounds interesting. I’ve never read any of this character so I might have to check into one of these books soon — thanks for an outstanding review!

    • The early and middle ones could be read quite easily as standalones – it’s only the last few that have depended so much on knowing the characters’ history. If you do get a chance to try them, I hope you enjoy them! 🙂

    • I still enjoy them hugely, but I do wonder now if he’s likely to attract any new readers with these later books – seems as if he’s only speaking to his existing audience somehow. Maybe that’s his intention though…

    • Definitely better to go to the earlier books with this series, though up until the last few they easily worked as standalones too. It’s so long since I read the early ones, but I have the feeling they were distinctly more noirish back then…

  5. Every time I read your reviews of Ian Rankins books I try to work out why I didn’t take to them, but can’t – I picked up a whole stack at a book sale quite a few years back and tried a couple but DNF – maybe I’d take to them better now but with the TBR in the state it’s in and the books long gone perhaps I’ll just continue to give him a wide berth. A shame that as much as you enjoyed this outing that you really feel Rebus has had his day and after all there is nothing wrong with an author turning back time.

    • I know that a lot of what I like about them is that Rankin is so good at writing about modern Scotland, so I definitely think this series probably appeals more to Scots than non-Scots. I also feel it’s changed over time, being more noir-like in the early days and kinda mellowing as we all aged together – me, Rankin and Rebus! So it might depend which stage of the series you tried. But even if you don’t read these, I’m pretty sure you won’t run out of books… 😉

    • It is! Shocking! You must read all 21 of them immediately! 😉

      Haha! More seriously, he’s probably the top Scottish crime writer of the last thirty years, so very well known over here but doesn’t seem to have leapt across the Atlantic, to the same extent. But well worth trying, if you ever get a chance… 🙂

        • 21 Rebus books and a few other non-Rebus ones! Good to know he’s made the leap over the pond – he’s well known for his books over here, of course, but he also turns up as a talking head on literary and arts programmes, so he’s a bit of a personality too.

    • Yes, it just came out a few months ago. Haha! Yes, the girlfriend is a bit of a shocker! In fact, I couldn’t think what to call her – girlfriend seems so wrong, but so does lover, partner, etc etc. There will have to be a new word for girlfriends acquired in the twilight of life… 😉

    • Oops! That’s just put your TBR up by another 21! 😉 Seriously, though, I do hope you enjoy these if you get a chance to read some of them! Like most series, I seem to remember this one improved over the first few books as he found his style. 😀

  6. I’ve never read any Rebus, that’s mad isn’t it? Whenever I see him interviewed I always think Ian Rankin comes across so well, and I’ve 2 friends who are police officers & they both think Rebus is great, so I don’t know how I’ve let this gap in my reading continue!

    • *gasps* Well, you must! There’s only 21 of them so it won’t take you long to catch up! Yes, I always like when Ian Rankin turns up on arts programmes and suchlike – he always seems like the kind of guy it would actually be fun to go for a drink with…

  7. Right now I’m reading Dead souls and It’s really good. I’ve only just started reading the rebus books not that long ago but he’s already my favourite author.

    • Oh, I’m glad you’re enjoying them! He’s been one of my favourite authors for… ahem… many years now, and I always read the new ones as soon as they come out. His writing is so good, and I love Rebus…

      Thanks for popping in and commenting! 😀

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