otwof: RATHER BE THE DEVIL by Ian Rankin

Review published on November 4, 2016.


Rebus is surely one of the most loved of detectives having been the focus of most of this author’s thrillers. He never changes from book to book and I have a long standing vision of what he looks like. He is cantankerous and difficult, often dour, with a wry humour that raises a smile in the darkest of times. Dining with Deborah, his lady friend, he compares her skill in dissecting a steak with her treatment of the corpses in the morgue. But he is also tenacious and determined to solve any crime even if it means sailing near legality himself with little respect for authority and no patience with rules. Rebus never gives up.

In this book he is retired, not in the best of health, attempting to cut back on the alcohol and the cigarettes, and he is lonely. I believe this is the first book in which he appears vulnerable and almost endearing.

Rebus has always had a tenuous relationship with Cafferty, the local crime boss, a situation that has often brought him into conflict with his superiors, but has on occasion been of benefit to both men. They have one another’s measure. But Cafferty claims to be retired now, having moved to a flat in a quiet area of Edinburgh keeping a low profile. But he is the man Rebus goes to in an attempt to glean information on Edinburgh’s crime underbelly.

And it is to Cafferty that Rebus goes when he hears from Siobhan, his former colleague that Darryl Christie, the cocky young thug who has assumed the title of crime boss in Edinburgh, has suffered a beating in the driveway of his home. Rebus wastes no time donning his detective persona.   There are links to an unsolved case from which Rebus had been removed, much to his chagrin. He rifles through the relative files still in his possession and the newspaper cuttings he has since collected, for any mention of the victim, Maria Turquand, or her cohorts who had been present in the Caledonian Hotel on the night of her murder.

Ian Rankin is an experienced and talented writer who leads the reader down a multitude of routes. This plot is very complicated with threads linked to past cases, dodgy bankers, bookies, local hoods, money laundering, and shell companies (five hundred of which are registered at an address that consists of one grubby room above a boxing club).   The story of a suspicious drowning in a pool in Grand Cayman a few years previous is dropped in with seemingly no connection to what is going on in Edinburgh. The reader does not have a clue as to what the outcome is likely to be, surely the essence of the best of mysteries. The many characters are vivid and believable regardless of their leanings and all are interesting.

With the Scottish Police Force centralised, the local detectives must swallow their resentment towards the team seconded from the centre at Gartcosh. The inclusion of Malcolm Fox, a former member of the local team, means the atmosphere is occasionally frosty.   The chat and irritation between the officers creates some wonderful scenes with an edge of ironic humour. Purists will probably be sceptical at Rebus’s involvement in the case and his ‘lone wolf’ adventures as he pursues a lead, often supported by a snaffled id card of Fox’s, all contributing to a terrific tale that still reads like reality. But I do wonder how long the writer can continue to use a retired detective in this way despite a popularity and style that fairly spices up the story. And at the end of the day it is unlikely the ends in this intricate tale would tie up neatly without his presence.

However, the mix does all come together in a superb unexpected finale that satisfies the reader. A most gripping and delightful book. I loved it.

Sheila A. Grant 5/3

Orion 978-1409159407 hbk Nov. 2016




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