It’s been a while since I’ve read a book in the Rebus series, and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed them. The books are set in Edinburgh, which is a character in its own right. Ian Rankin knows the city well, from the posh part with the big houses and lawns to areas so rough that any visitors stupid enough to wander would have a pretty low chance of survival.
There is excitement about the new Scottish parliament in Edinburgh, and a disused building is being renovated to house it. Inspector John Rebus has to act as police liaison as the building falls in his jurisdiction. Rebus is not happy about this. However, things start to get interesting when, during a guided tour around the building, he finds a body walled up in a blocked-up fireplace. It’s been there from the late 1970s, and no one can identify it. Soon another, fresher, body turns up in the building—that of Roddy Grieve, who was standing for the Scottish parliament as a Labour MP. Grieve comes from a prominent family, so the Chief Constable wants all the stops pulled out.
Then a tramp commits suicide, and when the Rebus’s team look into his death, they find that he had £400,000 in a building society, and a false identity. Rebus suspects that the three cases are linked but his superiors are not so sure. Of course, this doesn’t make any difference to Rebus, who is convinced he is right. He manages to circumvent the bosses’ interference with a little help from Siobhan Clarke, who used to work with him and is now part of another team. But the Grieves, who are eccentric and manipulative (and have a few skeletons in their cupboard), complicate things for him. And if that wasn’t enough, his old nemesis, the gang boss Ger Cafferty, is out of prison.
I like the way Rankin paces his books—he keeps up the tension but allows space for the characters to develop. Rebus loves rock, drinks too much and can be utterly cynical. Naturally, his personal life is a mess. Among the people Rebus trusts is Siobhan Clarke. She knows him well and is one of the few people who can stand up to him. She tries, not always successfully, to stop him breaking too many rules.
Set in Darkness is quite grim and doesn’t end with all the loose ends tied. But there is a healthy dose of black humour running through it. One of Cafferty’s thugs “had black hair so badly cut it looked like an ill-fitting wig, and a nose which hadn’t so much been broken in the past as thoroughly dismantled.” The pathologist jokes that he works in the dead centre of the city.
This book won the 2005 Grand Prix du Roman Policier in France. If you haven’t discovered this series yet, you should. They’re a delight.