John Rebus, newly returned to the force and rescued temporarily from an obscure retirement. The main condition of his reinstatement is the demotion of his rank from Detective Inspector to Detective Sergeant. He is working under the auspices of Siobhan Clarke who ironically is now promoted to DI, of no real concern to Rebus as he is just pleased to have been returned to his old hunting ground.
Rebus and Clarke arrive at the scene of an accident; a VW Golf travelling at speed suddenly leaves the road and impacts with an oak tree. It would appear there is only one casualty, Jessica Traynor, but Rebus is suspicious that Traynor was not actually the driver and is covering for this unknown person who has fled the scene. As with all Rankin books events as initially portrayed rarely tell the truth and as avid fans will be pleased to know, on closer investigation, our two intrepid heroes discover unscrupulous underhand activity with political undertones. The author is very fond of introducing a secondary plot and usually involves John Rebus at a different time in his career. Malcolm Fox (just returned from the Complaints/Professional Standards dept) is investigating a newly reopened 30 year old case. At that time it could be argued that police enforcement was more akin to an episode of "Life on Mars" (British tv series 2007 where officers were content to physically abuse a suspect in order to attain a confession) and Fox is tasked with investigating the suspicious death of Douglas Merchant, the seemingly unreliable evidence of snitch Billy Saunders, and the shadowy underhand involvement of "Saint of the Shadow Bible" a number of police colleagues who swore a bond on something called the shadow bible.
However, all of the above is I feel incidental to what is really at the heart of Ian Rankin's writing; his Scottishnes and his unbelievable drawing of characters, in particular John Rebus. Rebus is an isolated individual, separated from his wife Rhona and daughter Samantha, living a lonely existence in his Marchmont flat, surrounded by his booze, cigarettes and endless vinyl records of 70's/80's music icons...."He led the way up two flights of stairs to the door to his flat. Unlocked it and scooped up the mail before switching on the hallway light. She followed him into the living room. The ashtray next to his armchair needed emptying. A couple of beer bottles sat alongside, plus an empty whisky glass." Rebus is best described as an old fashioned "dogged" copper, not for him meetings, protocols and endless google searches....and this is what makes us love him!..."She hadn't known John Rebus long, but she knew he was good at this, like a bloodhound given a scent and then left to do what it was best at. Form-filling and protocols and budget meetings were not Rebus's thing-never had been and never would be. His knowledge of the internet was rudimentary and his people skills were woeful....he was a breed of copper that wasn't supposed to exist anymore, a rare and endangered species."
D I Siobhan is the complimentary opposite to Rebus and holds a great respect and platonic love for him. She is highly intelligent and understands how JR operates, curtailing even cautioning him but values his deep understanding of the criminal mind and how it operates. She feels for him and worries about him; his out of control drinking, smoking, loneliness and what, she wonders, will finally become of him when he is no longer able to operate and contribute to the Scottish Constabulary.
I as a reader adore John Rebus, I see him as a real and living individual and for that I hold the greatest admiration for his creator Ian Rankin. I highly recommend this book and in closing this review leave the parting words to Detective Sergeant John Rebus..."I'm from the eighties, Peter- I'm not the newfangled touchy-feely model. Now get out of my f***ing car!"