John Rebus, the prickly maverick hero of Ian Rankin‘s popular police procedurals, is back. He’s getting up in age, wheezes a bit halfway up a staircase, but couldn’t handle retirement. In Standing in Another Man’s Grave, Rebus is a civilian employee investigating cold cases. But he has all his marbles, all his old tricks and all his old chums, including DI Siobhan Clarke and frenemy Gerry McCafferty. And thank heavens for that. The rough cop with the tender heart may be a cliche, but in Rankin’s rendering, it doesn’t feel like one. No wonder his 2004 Rebus novel, Resurrection Men, won the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best Novel.
Here’s the set-up: Annette McKie, a 15-year-old girl from a crime-connected family, has disappeared. She was last seen in a gas station off the highway, where she’d gotten off a bus to use the restroom. Rebus isn’t investigating that crime, of course, as his unit’s focus is on cold cases. But the publicity surrounding Annette’s disappearance spurs a visit by Nina Hazlett, whose daughter Sally disappeared under similar circumstances in 1999. Rebus takes a close look, turning up evidence that there is a series of missing girls. The new case and the old cases are merged, and Rebus is in the uncomfortable situation of being simultaneously the most experienced and knowledgable detective in the group and the one with the lowest standing. How he plows ahead to solve the crimes through sheer will, insight, and manipulation is a joy to read.
As usual, the plot is knotty, the characters are complex, and Rebus treads a fine line, bending the rules but not breaking them. He has a finely honed personal integrity. My only reservation about the book is the insertion of Malcolm Fox, the protagonist of Rankin’s new series about a “complaints” (think Internal Affairs) investigator, into the plot. I have previously reviewed the new series, and thought that although it was not spot on, it was getting good. In the current book, I felt that Fox is not fully fleshed out, and that his staunch belief through most of the book that Rebus’ style is inherently corrupt and that Rebus himself must be driven from the force, feels forced. At the end of Standing in Another Man’s Grave, Rebus has put in for reinstatement into the CID – assuming he can pass the physical – and there is pretty heavy foreshadowing that Rankin plans continued Fox:Rebus clashes. If he can make Fox a match for Rebus – which I doubt – I say, bring it on.