A review of Standing in Another Man’s Grave, by Ian Rankin
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
Maverick detective John Rebus, recently retired, is trying to get back on the police force in Edinburgh, but not everyone is happy about that — especially a detective named Malcolm Fox, who heads up the equivalent of the department’s Internal Affairs office.
“‘The file on you,’ Fox said eventually, ‘goes back to the 1970s. In fact, to call it a file is doing it an injustice; it takes up one whole shelf.’
“‘I’ve been called into the headmaster’s office a few times,’ Rebus conceded.”
So it goes in the topsy-turvy life of Ian Rankin’s thoroughly unconventional detective. Rebus is brilliant, though he operates astride the fine line between what’s legal and what’s not, and slips over it from time to time for the sake of getting results. Not only does he close nearly all his cases, but he’s also the only person on the force who has ever managed to put away Edinburgh’s notorious crime boss, Gerald “Big Ger” Cafferty.
In Standing in Another Man’s Grave, Rebus is now working as a civilian employee of the department in a unit devoted to investigating cold cases. The work is unrewarding, and Rebus sees it only as a stepping-stone to getting back into active duty again. Then along comes a chance encounter with a woman who claims to see a pattern in the disappearance over the course of a decade of a number of young women along the A9 highway leading north from Edinburgh to the coast. As Rebus looks into her story, he begins to suspect that she’s right — and, for some reason Rebus finds mysterious, he’s the first person on the force to give her the time of day. To do justice to the investigation, Rebus manages to draw his former partner, Siobhan Clarke, now a Detective Inspector, into the case. Soon other detectives pile on in the increasingly fraught investigation as it moves forward, grabbing headlines throughout Britain.
Standing in Another Man’s Grave is the 18th and most recently published of Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels. It’s also, I’ve learned, the third in a new series of books about Malcolm Fox.
This is my second venture into the work of Ian Rankin. Previously, I’d read only Doors Open, which I thoroughly disliked. (You can read my review by clicking on that title.) The dimensionality of the characters in this book compared with the overdrawn caricatures of Doors Open made it, for me, a much more satisfying read. For what it’s worth, Rankin is, reportedly, Britain’s best-selling author of crime novels.
Around the world with detective fiction
As I followed private investigator Vish Puri and his team through the streets of Jaipur in Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Missing Servant (review forthcoming), it suddenly occurred to me that a fair amount of what I’ve learned about life and culture in other countries has come from my reading of detective fiction. And, given the depth of research conducted by so many of my favorite crime writers, I suspect this isn’t such a bad way to learn about the world around me.
Every one of these series of detective novels is well worth reading for sheer enjoyment. Yet they all help illuminate the world we live in.
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Tagged as Alexander McCall Smith, detective fiction, Donna Leon, Elizabeth George, Henning Mankell, Ian Rankin, John Burdett, Martin Cruz Smith, Novel