Rebus Series

Saints of the Shadow Bible – Ian Rankin

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Saints of the Shadow Bible Ian RankinRebus is back in the police, demoted and a bit angry. While Rebus investigates a car accident, he learns that a case he and his mentors worked thirty years ago is about to be reopened. That investigation is led by none other than Malcolm Fox, and Rebus is caught between his sense of justice and loyalty to the men who helped him start his career in the police.

Standing in Another Man’s Grave was the first time Rebus and Fox, both Rankin creations in their own series, went head to head, but that stand off was just a teaser to the action in Saints of the Shadow Bible. While Rebus ostensibly is working with Malcolm, you as the reader are never sure if his loyalties lie with the truth or with his old comrades. While many Rebus books have let the famous Edinburgh cop toe the line, in Saints of the Shadow Bible, Rebus appears to have let his post-retirement demotion and treatment force him over once and for all. As a long-time reader of Rebus, even I was sitting on the edge of my seat, wondering what decision the veteran cop was going to make.

Rankin is in great shape in his most recent work, and it was great to see the contrast of Fox and Rebus when they were placed side by side.  I felt that Saints of the Shadow Bible was much stronger than Standing in Another Man’s Grave or Exit Music, putting Rebus back into some of his best form in years.  Rankin raises the tension, keeps the reader guessing in the two central mysteries, and showcases the growth of his characters over the years. Now if only Siobhan could be more settled and happy and less like Rebus in her personal life (I would also read a book centered solely on Rebus’s apprentice).

I am more excited to see where Rebus and Fox are heading, and hopefully we’ll get to see more of Fox finding his way in his new reality as well.  Rankin is taking this next year off, so no new books will be hitting our shelves until at least 2015, but I cannot wait for what’s next for Edinburgh’s craziest cops.

Rating: 8/10

Read Saints of the Shadow Bible (Inspector Rebus)


Standing in Another Man’s Grave – Ian Rankin

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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.)

Rating: 7.5/10

Rebus Still in Trouble – Even in Retirement

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It has been about five years since Ian Rankin retired DI John Rebus in Exit Music and seemingly left the troubling detective behind for man-of-the-rules Malcolm Fox.

But Rebus fans’ dreams came true when Rankin announced that Rebus would be making a comeback – with Siobhan Clarke and Fox beside him:

It is twenty-five years since Rebus first appeared in Knots and Crosses, and five years since he retired. In Standing in Another Man’s Grave not only is Rebus as stubborn and anarchic as ever, but he finds himself in trouble with Ian Rankin’s latest creation, Malcolm Fox of Edinburgh’s internal affairs unit. In the meantime his protégée Siobhan has stepped from under his shadow and is forging ahead in her own career.


Talk about a dream mashup of characters.  Rebus the cop who loves to break rules and Fox the one who makes sure cops adhere to them, the combination of the two very different, but very similar, characters should be electrifying.  Of course, the question is – will this be a Rebus novel with Malcolm Fox as the guest star, or the other way around?

Do you have a favorite author you wish would take after Rankin’s lead?  If you’re a Rankin fan, are you excited about Rebus’s return or just wish he would have left the character out of Edinburgh CID?


Rebus Series #3 – Tooth and Nail

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Rankin spent two books building a semblance of a pattern, and with Tooth and Nail throws it out a bit.  And yet, this is the book where we really start to see Rebus for what he will become.  Rebus gets a call to go down South, which for a Scot, is not the most pleasant idea.  Wanted in London to help with a serial murderer nicknamed the Wolfman, Rebus is convinced they’ll see him for the sham he is within days.  Except when he arrives in Kings Cross, he hears of the most recent murder and goes straight to the scene of crime.  Working with DI Flight, Rebus becomes invested in the case as if he had been there all along, and some of his ideas lead to major breaks.  While in London, Rebus reconnects with his now 16 year-old daughter (meaning we’re about 4-5 years after Knots and Crosses), his ex-wife, and an attractive psychologist determined to help catch the Wolfman.

There are so many different things to discuss about this book, I’m not quite where to start.  We have again an obsession with Jekyll and Hyde.  This time, the Wolfman embodies Hyde.  Based on the bite marks he leaves on his victims (post-mortem), a dental pathologist creates a possible mold of the Wolfman’s head.  Upon seeing it, DI Flight notes that it looked just as he imagined Hyde.  The face is deformed, because the lower jaw was smaller, more feminine than the upper.  In Knots and Crosses, Rebus sort of imagines himself as Jekyll and Hyde, and the reader is led to see him as Jekyll and Reeve as Hyde – they began the same but became two different men.  With Hide and Seek, the main villain calls himself Hyde, the dual identity claimed and wanted.  And here, in Tooth and Nail, the criminal is given the identity by the police, but also given the Jekyll name because a murderer is not born, but rather prepares himself for the path of death.  One character also notes that the Wolfman likes being the two different people, perhaps reveling in his split personality.  You could say that Rankin has a bit of a predilection for Stevenson’s seminal work.

One thing that I thought was a little different in Rebus’s character was his lack of obsession.  By the end of Hide and Seek, he had seemed to go over the edge, and yet, here he feels a little less so.  Perhaps that is only because he is a new location, and time has reasonably passed since he solved the fight club case.  He does seem to let the case go at times, enjoying a bit of a romance with Lisa Frazer (the aforementioned psychologist), and slightly obsessed with his daughter’s boyfriend.  Actually, for Rebus, he is pretty nonchalant about Wolfman until midway through the book.  Of course, this could be due to his belief that he would be of no help from the beginning.

However, when Rebus does make a few breaks in the case, he begins to go Rogue Rebus.  For those that have read the series, he does this a lot.  This is really the first time that he does things because he believes they’re a better idea, though.  Flight calls Rebus out for a couple of renegade moves, points out that he could work as a team and still get the job done.  While Rebus is embarrassed at this point, I think he also begins to see how his actions are perceived and starts to believe in his own abilities a lot more than in the previous two novels.

I will make one complaint about this book.  The voices were a bit hard to follow.  In Hide and Seek, Rankin switched between Holmes and Rebus (mainly), and the shifts were always easy to follow.  But Tooth and Nail was much less clear-cut.  There were a few times I had to reread to see whose head I was in and from what viewpoint I was examining things.  I honestly prefer only one or two characters to narrate the story, but we jumped from so many different heads it became obnoxious.  I will say that the Wolfman’s head was the best bit – very intriguing to get some view of what made him tick.

For Rebus enthusiasts, we hear of Morris “Big Ger” Cafferty for the first time.  It is mostly a throw-away – Rebus merely has to hightail it to Glasgow to testify against him – but Cafferty becomes a major figure in the Rebus series.  It is very interesting to take note of when and how he is introduced.

There are a lot of great things about Tooth and Nail, but honestly, it is not my favorite Rebus.  Perhaps it is because Rebus is out of the Edinburgh element, or simply because it is only one of the first novels.  Still, it kept me reading late into the night, and I’ve read it before.  Still a great crime fiction read.

Rating: 7.5/10

Rebus Series #2 – Hide and Seek

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I might only be on the second book, but I think a deep rereading of all of the Rebus books was a genius idea.  You may not get as much out of it as I do, after all, I am the one reading them.  Unless you’re reading along with me.  If you are, please let me know.  I think I would die of appreciation and awe.

I am taking copious notes as I reread the books, and I have to say, it’s helping me notice the subtle changes in Rebus, his growth as a character.  I know I have read an interview with Rankin somewhere in which he expressed a bit of regret of how he shaped Rebus to start, but I think the character’s natural progression is interesting and inspired.

Hide and Seek is the second of the Rebus books, and picks up some time after Knots and Crosses.  His ex-wife has moved his daughter Sammy down south to London, Gill Templar has moved on to another man, and Rebus has been promoted at work.  Before he was a DS – Detective Sergeant.  Now he is a Detective Inspector, or DI.  And Rebus likes the little bit of power that comes with his promotion.  He happens to catch a case in a rundown estate called Pilmuir.  What appears to be a run-of-the-mill overdose has Rebus curious enough to keep digging, especially when they discover the heroin Ronnie took had been laced with rat poison.  Rebus’s new supervisor, Farmer Watson, wants him to help represent a new anti-drugs movement since he has “personal” experience. (For those that don’t remember, Rebus’s brother Mickey had been dealing drugs, and has obviously been arrested and tried by the time this book begins.)  The anti-drug movement puts Rebus in the midst of Edinburgh’s rich and powerful businessmen.  Even though Rebus is supposed to be wrapping up the case, he finds himself more and more desperate to discover what happened to Ronnie and why he knowingly killed himself.  When the two worlds of his police work start to collide, Rebus begins to wonder just what everyone is hiding.

There are a few interesting notes to make about this novel.  It is the first time that we meet DC Holmes, an officer who becomes more and more important to Rebus throughout the series.  A sort of innocent, hard-working man, Holmes finds working for Rebus frustrating, and yet oddly satisfying as well.  We also meet Farmer Watson for the first time.  Nicknamed “Farmer” because he originally came from Aberdeen (a smaller city in the north of Scotland), Watson is Rebus’s immediate supervisor for several novels.  While both of these characters are wary of Rebus for different reasons, they both appear to like him despite his own personal quirks.

At this point in the series, Rebus does not yet feel that he is the only one who can solve the case.  Rather, he simply feels that he is the only one that cares enough.  He later admits that he can’t stand for anyone to have secrets, and that seems to drive the digging.  But what you really begin to understand about Rebus is that he cares.  He does not just care about the mystery, about the secrets, but about the people who have been wronged.  In this case, it is Ronnie whose death is unnecessary.  He digs to vindicate the young man, even if he had been a junkie.  Sure, I think Rebus tries harder once he discovers Ronnie’s brother is a police officer, but that simply gives him another reason to worry about what happened to the boy.

In fact, the entire drive behind this story is personal.  Rebus cares because it feels personal to him.  He is picked for the drugs campaign because of personal experience.  He was promoted because of a personal case.  And he wants to delve down into the depths of Edinburgh’s elite because it has quickly become all too personal for him.  When Rebus is put on suspension as a result of a complaint (the first time this happens in the series), he feels the bad guy behind everything wants him out of it because he has gotten too close.  Rebus makes everything personal, and holds it all in.

At the beginning of the book, we see Rebus trying to forget work, even if it will not leave him alone.  But by the end, Holmes has become more comfortable in Rebus’s flat, Rebus confronts one of the guilty there, and he has brought evidence home with him.  Hide and Seek really seems to push Rebus over the edge into the obsessive.  He cannot let things lie, as many people would prefer, and spends his nights (at the end of the novel) staring at a photograph that would prove guilt for many of Edinburgh’s powerful.

Hide and Seek really dwells on whether or not certain people should be above the law.  Rebus obviously thinks that no one should be able to circumvent justice, no matter who they are.  Even though Rebus’s investigation leads him right into the heart of Edinburgh’s finest, he hates it when some of them get away.  Ends are neatly tied up, leaving Rebus and Holmes the only ones who know the full extent of the case.  They get no satisfaction in justice.  It foreshadows some of the happenings in other Rebus novels, things that will continue to haunt Rebus throughout fifteen books.

It really is amazing to watch Rebus evolve naturally, and without hesitation.  Rankin may or may not have done it consciously, but many of Rebus’s traits are shifting as he becomes a better detective, as he sees more of the darkness of his world, and as he begins to delve deeper into some cases.

While Hide and Seek may not be considered the best Rebus book, it is an important stepping stone in understanding Rebus himself in some of the later masterpieces.

Rebus Series #1 – Knots and Crosses

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I always forget when I pick up this book just how much I love its characters.  Rebus is introduced so well, so effectively, that you leave the book thinking that you know him personally.  You begin to wonder just how his superiors cannot see him the way that you do, how people could be so blind to the wonderful bits of his character.  And yet, you understand his failings because he shares them with you, but guards them so well against everyone else.

I think there is a good possibility that if Rebus were real and not quite so much older than me, I could be in love with him.  This of course, is when I remind myself that he is a work of fiction, and I have to also remind myself that he does have his many, many faults.

So, before I get too carried away in my affection, the basic plot of the novel may help to ground some of my readers who have not yet been introduced to the Scottish detective.  Knots and Crosses is the first book in the series, and we meet John Rebus as he is placing a wreath of flowers on his father’s grave.  Not particularly fond of his deceased dad, Rebus still feels the need to remember him.  After leaving the cemetery, he travels to his brother Michael’s house, where he receives a less-than-warm welcome.  Michael and John have never been close.  It is somewhere in the drive the reader learns of the abductions – the case that will form the backbone of the novel.  Two young girls have been abducted, both around twelve, the same age as Rebus’s own daughter. Rebus is dealing with a fresh divorce, with the separation from his own child, and with the caseload of an Edinburgh Detective Sergeant.  He also happens to be receiving crank letters, taunts with bits of string knotted in the envelope.  Feeling as if the weight of the world already rests on his shoulders, Rebus gets placed on the abductions case and must shoulder the grunt work, all the while feeling as if something is just out of reach.

From here on out, spoilers are possible.

The interesting and lovely thing about Rankin himself, is that he was working on his PhD in Scottish Literature at the University of Edinburgh when he wrote Rebus.  There are tons of literary gems embedded in the novel, including an obsession with Jekyll and Hyde.  This obsession morphs throughout the novel itself.  The first mention, Rebus calls himself Hyde.  He is ashamed at his own reactions while going through case files of sex crimes as background reading for the case.  The second time, Rebus equates Jekyll and Hyde to the murderer, a man who could be hiding in plain sight, his own family unaware of the evil lurking within.  The third remark is a background on the character – Deacon Brodie was perhaps the inspiration for it.  This comment reflects the history of Edinburgh, of its less-than-perfect truths that many would prefer stayed hidden.  The fourth time Edinburgh itself is given over to the split character.  While Rankin hints at the murky depths of Edinburgh throughout the novel, he does not come out and explicitly state its division until he references it to the famous duo.  And though not mentioned, but definitely implied, our killer is the Hyde to Rebus’s Jekyll.  They had been friends in the army, blood brothers they called themselves, until Rebus made a decision that left the other man feeling betrayed.  So their personalities split, and Hyde is bent on hurting Jekyll for fifteen years until he can finally accomplish his goal.  Though, unlike the source novel, only one of the personalities dies.

Rankin also planned Rebus to be a single novel, never imagining that his character would grab at the audience so forcefully.  This, obviously, means that Rankin never imagined that the traits he gave his main character would become so important later on.  With Knots and Crosses, we as readers get to delve pretty deeply into Rebus’s back story.  We find out that he used to work in the Special Air Services (SAS), an elite military group.  He was at the top of his game in the army, and then something happened to make him have a nervous breakdown.  Though we discover the cause later was extreme torture designed as a test, Rebus cannot shake the effects even fifteen years later.  These nightmares have caused him to drink a bit too much, smoke more than he should, and impairs his relationships with others.  Though in Knots and Crosses he develops a budding romance with Gill Templar, we still see her doubts because she knows that Rebus is damaged, perhaps beyond repair.

I feel that the first novel is far more personal than the others.  I could be wrong, as it has been awhile since I have read all of them, but I think we get a much clearer picture of Rebus as a whole.  We learn all about his dysfunctional family within the first three pages, the crime itself is based on a personal vendetta against Rebus, and much of the novel focuses on Rebus’s perceived failure as a father and brother.  While he tries to mend the relationship with Michael, Rebus learns that his own brother has been pushing drugs.  Though he is a cop through and through, when Rebus first discovers the news he punches the messenger square in the stomach.  Of course, in pure Rebus fashion, he then offers the victim a drink.  So it evens out.  But it is that initial disbelief and violent, protective reaction that displays Rebus’s love for his brother, however broken.

One thing that Rankin has done so very well is present a believably vulnerable man.  While his vulnerability extends to many aspects of his life and career, it exhibits here especially in a lack of confidence.  After having made a small break in the case, Rebus wants that little bit of praise.  He needs reassurance in his work:

But really he needed their pats on the back, their congratulations on a job well done, their acceptance.  He needed someone to assure him that it was all going to be all right.

That he would be all right. (pg 108)

This is not something we see in the other novels.  Rebus becomes much more sheltered, more isolated.  But his hesitation works so well in Knots and Crosses because he is not yet confident in his own abilities as a cop.  He is not yet a hard-boiled hero who is a law unto himself.  He only goes off on his own here because he is chasing down his own demons and saving his daughter’s life.

As I keep reading the books, I am really going to enjoy watching Rebus change throughout the course of his cases.  Though Rankin may not have mapped out his progression, he has created a fantastic foundation on which to build the infamous Scottish detective.

Now to have the will power to pick up something else before starting Hide and Seek.

The Inspector Rebus Series

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Many of you who know me personally know just how obsessed I am with Ian Rankin, and especially with Rebus.  Inspector Rebus spans 17 novels, a book of short stories, a British television series, and even features in a book entitled Rebus’s Scotland (you can even take a Rebus tour of Edinburgh).  I myself first read Let it Bleed, a book in the middle of the series, and yet I was hooked.

I find Rebus to be incredibly interesting as a character, and Rankin allows his reader to watch his character grow (or not grow), deepen, and become so real to us as readers.  His self-deprecating nature and gruff exterior only serve to mask the teddy bear of a man hiding within, making him a cracking good read.  Plus, given Rebus’s choice in music and pop culture references, he’s just plain cool.  He has fascinated his audience since his first appearance in 1987, and even with his conclusion, Rebus continues to draw in new readers.

In deference to my obsession, I have decided to have a special event of sorts.  Over the next few weeks, I plan to reread each of the seventeen novels, from Knots and Crosses to Exit Music, and post about them here.  If this series works out, I may plan other books to highlight like this.  But for now, I will go through each book, show how Rebus changes throughout the series, see how he progresses as a character, and just have fun with the types of cases that Rankin throws at his most popular character.  Some entries may be only a couple hundred words, others significantly longer.

While I go through the Rebus Series, I do plan to read and review other books, so if you are not a huge crime fiction fan, then never fear.

And in case you had not figured it out yet, Rankin is Scottish.  I did warn you I was a wee bit obsessed.