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The Saints of the Shadow Bible

by Ian Rankin (Orion, 2013)

I’m from the 80s… I’m not the newfangled touchy feely model.

For most of my adult life, I’ve been a fan of John Rebus. Rather, I should say Ian Rankin. It’s hard to choose—Rebus is as large as life that fictional characters can get. Rankin’s characterization is brilliantly complex and ‘real’, and there are times when you think you can hear the strains of music from Rebus’ LP collection…

But I digress. In this nineteenth Rebus novel, the once-retired detective is back on the job, though it’s not to fill his former shoes as a detective inspector; Rebus is now a lowly sergeant. This means that his old protegé Siobhan Clarke, who has been steadily rising through the ranks and was a DI already in Standing in Another Man’s Grave now outranks him. Fortunately, she remains something of a chip off the old block, but very much her own person too.

Rounding off the cast of major characters is Malcolm Fox from the complaints department. And if that isn’t exciting enough, he’s digging about for skeletons in closets from the 1980s and it seems like one of Rebus and his former colleages’ is about to tumble out. Under the changes to the double jeopardy law in Scotland, the public prosecutor’s office wants to open a thirty-year-old case where a man was tried for beating another man to death. However, Billy Saunders, the alleged culprit, slipped through the fingers of the law thanks to some shoddy police work—or perhaps some deliberate bending of rules.

“You ever see the programme Life on Mars? It felt like a documentary.”

Indeed, those were different times. Back when police work meant dancing around the finer points of the law, keeping your contacts sweet, Rebus was at Summerhall CID, where the team were a dubbed the Saints and were a closeknit bunch that swore an oath on what they called the Shadow Bible, even Rebus, who was young and new and very much a small fry. In the botched Billy Saunders case, though their boss Stefan Gilmour took the blame and resigned from the force, with Fox sniffing around, some uncomfortable questions are bound to get asked. Point is, which team will Rebus bat for?

Meanwhile, Rebus teams up with Siobhan Clarke to investigate a car crash that throws up more questions than answers. And the possibile involvement of the son of a well-known politician, the leader of the ‘yes’ campaign for Scottish independence, no less. The past and present churn together as the two investigations wind their way to a conclusion.

Despite the complex, twisting double plot, this is a much more mellow novel than the earlier Rebus books. Fortunately, it is no less entertaining. Characterization is definitely one of Rankin’s strong suits and to best enjoy this, this series should ideally be read in the proper order, or at least broadly so. Even though The Saints of the Shadow Bible is a prefectly fine standalone novel, one doesn’t quite appreciate the characters’ journeys without having known their histories.

The question that Rebus fans will be concerned with is, “Was he guilty back then?”. However, the answer will not be revealed here; suffice it to say, Rankin has handled it with aplomb.


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