At about this time last year, I read Ian Rankin’s Saints of the Shadow Bible for the first time. I actually started a blog post to review it, but had to move on, because the 2014 Edgar nominees had been announced. Now I’m back with an actual review, having read it twice, because it’s up for a 2015 Edgar for Best Novel. What goes around comes around! So it’s first up in the Lunchbox read, review, rank-fest.
Rereading this book was a pleasure, because I’m a Rankin fan – particularly his Rebus series – and in Saints of the Shadow Bible, Rebus is paired with the protagonist of Rankin’s new series, Malcolm Fox. (Click here for my take on the new series.)
We’ve been through a lot with Rebus. He’s been at the top of his game. He’s been retired. He’s come back to work cold cases as a civilian. In Saints, Rebus is back in the CID as a Detective Sergeant, and his old colleague, Siobhan Clarke, is a Detective Inspector – in fact, his boss. Rebus, no longer top dog, is investigating a questionable car wreck. Was Jessica Traynor truly driving alone on that lonely road where her car crashed, or was someone else driving – say, her boyfriend, Forbes McCuskey? That Jessica is the daughter of a well-known baddie, while McCuskey’s the son of a politician makes it all the more enticing. Meanwhile, Fox is investigating a 30-year-old case, and has strong suspicions that Rebus’ old crowd (well-known for rough treatment, cutting corners, and even the occasional evidence-plant) was responsible for the death of a criminal and the subsequent cover-up.
Thirty years is a long time, and the Saints of the Shadow Bible, as the crew called themselves, have moved on. Rebus, the youngest and least trusted of the Saints back in the day, is still on the job. Others have retired, one is dead, one’s at death’s door, and one – Stefan Gilmour – took a fall and left the force early on. Gilmour, now a successful business man and active in Scots politics, has the most to lose. Malcolm Fox is out to team up with John Rebus, to use him to get information about the Saints, counting on John’s basic decency.
But loyalty is hard to overcome. Sticking together, over the line sometimes, but always getting results, so bad behavior was forgiven. As Rebus explained, “But the Shadow Bible was the copy of Scots Criminal Law we were given. Big black thing with a leather cover and brass screws. And we all spat on it and rubbed it in till it was dry. I thought it was a kind of oath, but it wasn’t – we were saying the rules could go to hell, because we knew better. We were the ones in the field…”
In Saints of the Shadow Bible, Rebus has to come down on one side or the other – loyalty to his former friends and colleagues, or the truth. And when a 30-year-old crime results in a present-day murder, Rebus can no longer look away. There are some impressive titles nominated this year, but Saints will be a tough one to beat – this is Rankin’s fourth nomination of a Rebus book for Best Novel, and he won in 2004 for Resurrection Men (a fabulous book).