Rebus returns to his old tricks
A last tilt at the windmills
There’s a certain poignancy to the novel’s opening, as Rebus, one of the most popular fictional characters of our generation, fumbles through the ashes of various cold cases and then proceeds to pursue an investigation largely on his own initiative, all on the basis that his previous dedication to the job has left him solitary and, in his own eyes, irrelevant in his retirement.
Painfully aware of his limitations and his diminishing physical capability, Rebus rouses himself – much as he cajoles his battered old Audi into life every morning – for one last tilt at the windmills. He is convinced that the CID’s new and “improved” policing methods lack the hands-on quality that requires police officers to get said hands dirty, to engage with the criminals and barter away some of their soul, if that’s what it takes to bring a killer to justice.
In that sense the novel is a commentary of sorts on the kind of crime and mystery narrative that has come to dominate popular culture in recent decades: the bright, shiny and utterly implausible CSI series and its multitude of spinoffs. Despite the best efforts of his young, social-media-friendly colleagues, Rebus remains wedded to the old methods, just as Rankin eschews the easy options, plotwise, to concentrate on his fascination with the character of Rebus and how this previously immovable object is contending with the irresistible forces of aging and death.
It’s a compelling tale, although fans of the Malcolm Fox stories – the internal-affairs man has appeared in two novels published by Rankin subsequent to Rebus’s retirement, The Complaints (2009) and The Impossible Dead (2011) – may be taken aback by Rankin’s portrayal of Fox here. To date an entertainingly flawed character who appreciates that his peers are entitled to consider that his investigations of his colleagues are a treachery of sorts, Fox is here rather one-dimensional, a petty jobsworth determined that Rebus be exposed as tainted due to his complex relationship with the criminal fraternity.
Perhaps Rankin is burning his bridges with Fox in preparation for more Rebus novels to come. If so, it’s a pity – but then, with Rebus, the ends always justify the means.