For an avid crime reader one of the greatest fictional characters to have emerged in almost 30 years is undoubtedly John Rebus. In so many ways he is the archetypal detective. He plays the game of cops and robbers under his rules and is not adverse to a little underhand dealing if it means a successful outcome to the criminal case. A divorced loner he has always lived a solitary existence at his flat in Arden Street Marchmont, surrounded by his memories and a vast LP collection (no modern cd's here) overpopulated by Bob Dylan, Jethro Tull, John Martyn and Van Morrison....to name but a few. Since the publication of Knots and Crosses in 1987 the personification and emergence of John Rebus as a "reality" rather than a writers creation has become blurred and for most Rankin fans he is a living breathing legend.
Rather be the Devil sees a retired JR doing what he does best, refusing to give into the inevitable pull of retirement, having been assigned to a cold case; the murder of Maria Turquand some 40 years previously. All the familiar characters are there; old time crime boss Big Ger Cafferty and the attractive career driven DI Siobhan Clarke. She has never doubted the great analytical and solving ability of our hero but has grave misgivings over his methodology, manners and approach to bringing a killer to justice. Clarke meantime is involved in solving a vicious attack on a young crime pretender Darryl Christie who appears to be at the heart of a money laundering scheme....soon to come to the attention of Cafferty.
It is however the characters, language and humour of modern day Edinburgh that is the real winner rather than the plot and storyline, from the past and present, which at times is a little confusing. There is also an inevitability and concern about the fate of John Rebus and the questioning of Rankin's writing in an attempt to discern how our great detective might finally make an exit...."He'd had a coughing fit in the toilet five minutes back, hawking gobbets into the sink then running the tap, rinsing away the evidence before dabbing sweat from his brow while thinking that next time maybe he'd remember to bring his inhaler. His face in the mirror told its own story, with little to indicate that the ending would be happy."
The interplay between Rebus and the characters and suspects he meets during the course of his investigation is always a joy and a pleasure to behold showcasing the crisp and delightful writing skills of Mr Rankin....."Thought you'd been put out to pasture? I'm here for a bit of a graze, Rebus replied"........"Tea or coffee? Then, to Fox specifically: And how do you take it? Without Saliva, preferably."........."You snatched some of my business cards, Fox said eventually. Of course I did- sometimes people need to think they're talking to a cop. But they're not, John, and impersonating a police officer is an offence. I know guys who spent their whole lives on the force doing not much more than impersonating cops."
Rather be the Devil once again proves that even in retirement there is still great mileage and stories to be had from the pen of Ian Rankin and the stubborn inquiring mind of John Rebus. It will be a sad day when our great detective finally brings to an end his long and colourful career a time of great lament and perhaps in Scotland a day of national mourning!