Standing in Another Man’s Grave follows Ian Rankin’s now-retired DI Rebus, who has not given up his need to solve cases. Working as a civilian with other retired cops in the Cold Case Unit, Rebus meets a woman who claims her daughter was the first victim in a string of murders along Scotland’s A9 motorway. Rebus, ever a man who loves a damsel in distress, decides to look into the case. In so doing, he begins to uncover some interesting facts about the current disappearance of a young girl. He throws himself back in with Siobhan Clarke, and worms his way onto the active investigation. Wary of Rebus’s presence is another Rankin protagonist, Inspector Malcolm Fox of the Complaints. Fox cannot believe Rebus is a clean cop, and when Rebus thinks about signing on to active duty, Fox thinks it’s his duty to find all the dirt of Rebus and his strange relationship with mobster Big Ger.
When Standing in Another Man’s Grave was announced, I was excited about the prospect of Fox and Rebus going toe to toe. There are plenty of our favorite authors who have multiple beloved characters, and wouldn’t we all like to watch these characters meet? By the earlier released log line, I assumed this was a book from Fox, and that Rebus would be a minor figure. Paint me astonished, because upon reading it the book was much the other way around. The majority of the narrative follows Rebus on the case, and we only get a small glimpse into what Fox thinks of this rather old-fashioned cop. And that glimpse is rather scathing.
Rankin explains in the afterword that he had never really been done with Rebus, but the required retirement age in Scotland had painted him into a corner with Rebus’s employment. Because John Rebus would never become a private detective nor would he be able to find crimes to solve while not on active duty, Rebus was retired. But then Rankin heard about the Cold Case Unit employing retired cops, and even better, the age restriction being raised. Suddenly, Rebus could come back and back he came.
I was mostly happy with the return of Rebus. He got up to his old tricks, but painted against the backdrop of Siobhan’s career choices and Fox’s opinions, it was hard not to feel that Rebus was a bit out of place in modern crime solving. Which is what I think Rankin wanted to do, but, not giving anything away, the ending really cemented that maybe Rebus has gone too far to prove he is still relevant and can deliver results. Going forward with any new Rebus, it would be interesting to see if Rankin would tame him a bit, allow him to adjust to the newer way of doing things. Otherwise, the reality of Rebus staying in the force would seem a bit stretched, and Rankin has been fairly fastidious about being realistic.
As for the meeting of the minds, it was rather intriguing to see Fox set against the backdrop of Rebus. Having read both The Complaints and The Impossible Dead, Fox is a character I thought I knew quite well. When things are told from his side of the story, you automatically assume guilt on the part of the cops, and you know why Fox goes after them so hard. But when Fox comes after Rebus, and you know Rebus is innocent, it puts a whole new spin on the view of a narrator. After all, from Fox’s perspective, this is a retired cop interested in rejoining the ranks who still works for the police department, has biweekly nights out with former mobster Big Ger Cafferty, and by all accounts, saved Cafferty’s life. But we know that Rebus hates Cafferty and that his motives are pure, even if his methods aren’t. Standing in Another Man’s Grave brings these two protagonists against each other and says a lot more about the respective characters when the reader thought they knew enough already.
As a crime novel, I found Rankin’s newest offering to be mostly on par with his previous works. My only real complaint was the end of the book, and the issue was that Rebus was so strong-handed that I felt it cheapened and lessened the criminal’s confession. However, having another Rebus and seeing that there is still a lot more to his story makes my day, and I will continue to read any new offerings. (It gave me chills to see “Rebus is Back” right there on the cover.)