Standing in Another Man’s Grave
by Ian Rankin (Orion, 2012)
“You were a bastard back then too. Just not so fat and old.”
It’s been five years since Detective Inspector John Rebus of the Lothian and Borders Police was forced to “take the gold watch”. But daytime television and gardening is hardly how Rebus envisages spending his sunset years. So we see him back in saddle—well, sort of, working cold cases at the Serious Crimes Review Unit as a civilian. But there are other things that haven’t changed: he is as much of a loose cannon as ever, he’s still smoking and drinking too much, still rubbing people up the wrong way, and still with a soft spot for LPs and rock music from decades past.
Our story begins when a woman called Nina Hazlitt comes to the cold-cases unit to prod the police about the disappearance of her daughter more than a decade ago. Eighteen-year-old Sally Hazlitt more or less vanished without a trace on New Year’s Eve 1999, but the police investigation came up with zilch. However, Nina Hazlitt has pursued the case relentlessly, even coming up with a theory that her daughter was the was first of series of women going missing. In 2002 it was a chartered accountant called Brigid Young, in 2008 it was young Zoe Beddows, and just recently fifteen-year-old Annette McKie has gone missing. The thread that binds them together is that all of them were last seen on or around the road known as A9, stretching from Edinburgh right up Thurso in northern Scotland, with nowhere further to go.
The possible link to the current missing-person case of McKie brings Rebus back to his old haunt. And at the Gayfield Square police station, we run into old friends, mainly in the shape of Siobhan Clarke, Rebus’ one-time protégé, now a DI and apparently flourishing outside of Rebus’ influence. So, of course, they end up on the hunt together. A hunt that takes them up to the Scottish Highlands and quite literally into the middle of nowhere:
No traffic sounds; no other humans; nothing but clouds visible in the sky overhead. Only his car to remind him what century this was—that and his phone, which rang obligingly.
The deathly solitude of the wilderness, however, hides many a secret, which Rebus and Clarke unearth one by one. Rankin’s description of the heart-stopping and lonely Scottish coast transports you to the A9, right beside Rebus’ in his trusty old Saab, with the cutting breeze on your face, and rock music in your ears…
It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that Rebus is back in full form, irascible and incorrigible, perfectly unlikeable yet impossible not to root for. And he hasn’t lost his touch, his cop’s instincts still as sharp as ever, his penchant for stepping on toes even if the consequences will be borne by others still firmly in place. In a side story that ropes in another Rankin creation, Malcolm Fox of The Complaints, Rebus’ relationship with old nemesis Big Ger Cafferty results in him coming in Fox’s crosshairs.
Siobhan Clarke merits a special mention. Rebus’s one-time comrade-in-arms and co-conspirator rekindles her association with him in this case, at possible risk to her own career, but it is clear that old loyalties die hard. Rankin also manages to stay true to the relationship between two main characters, something than many of his crime-writing contemporaries have botched up in such spectacular fashion, most notably Elizabeth George with Inspector Lynley and Sergeant Havers. But that’s a story for another day. For now, one can only hope that in case Rankin does decide to end things with Rebus, Siobhan Clarke will merit a series of her own.
Ian Rankin has his own typical style of wordsmithy, where not everything is spelt out, not everything explained. Standing in Another Man’s Grave is undoubtedly one of his better works. The tempo is set pretty high early on and it stays so right to the end. The ending itself—and how it came about—didn’t enthral me greatly, but the journey there was wholly satisfying. This is not the book that Rebus followers should consider forgoing.
The title of the book refers to Rebus’s mis-hearing of the Jackie Leven number “Another Man’s Rain”. Standing in Another Man’s Grave is also dedicated to Leven’s memory, who died in 2011, a year before the book was published, and excerpts from his songs appear as epigraphs to the books sections.
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