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Rankin’s retired detective returns, creating conflicts

Scottish novelist Ian Rankin created a crime-fiction series set in Edinburgh, Scotland. These books featured Detective Inspector John Rebus. He ages Rebus in real time. In 2009 the author broke this reviewer’s heart when he put Rebus out to pasture. The Edinburgh Police had a mandatory retirement age. We knew it was coming. Rankin warned us. But we had hoped that Rebus might find a way to keep on working. Nope, when Rebus turned 60 Rankin retired him and ended the series.

Rankin has a new series featuring Malcolm Fox, an officer with “The Complaints,” the Edinburgh equivalent of the Department of Internal Affairs. He’s published a couple of the Fox books, and they are wonderful. But Fox isn’t Rebus.

Fortunately, good things can come to those who wait. Rebus is back in a new novel, “Standing in Another Man’s Grave.” Rankin found a way to bring this beloved sleuth back into print. Rebus is still retired but he has found a new task working with the Serious Crime Review Unit.

Rebus and some other retired cops are poring over the records of about a dozen unsolved crimes. These old cold cases date from as far back as 1966. Rebus is back in his element, the hunt for criminals: “He hoped all these killers were out there somewhere, growing more ill at ease with each passing year as they read about advances in detection and technology.”

When he was still with the police force Rebus worked closely with another detective named Siobhan Clarke. They worked well together. She overlooked his unorthodox techniques. Rebus loves his music, alcohol, tobacco and solving crimes.

The return of Rebus to police work, even on this new basis, creates some conflicts for Siobhan. Rebus has this unfortunate habit of annoying his superiors. He is old-school all the way, an analog cop in a digital world. Over at “The Complaints” Malcolm Fox has had his fill of this dinosaur and his archaic methods. The retired crime boss Big Ger Cafferty has been spotted recently having drinks with Rebus. This makes Fox very suspicious.

Rebus connects a cold case to some other unsolved crimes. Young women have been vanishing along one particular stretch of highway, never to be seen again. If you are one of those mystery readers who takes pride in solving the crime before the detective does, you might find that Ian Rankin presents a unique challenge for you.

In an interview I told Rankin that “you really had us stumped and confused about who the perpetrator might be.” He responded: “There’s a good reason for that, Vick. I don’t know myself when I start the book.”

“When I start the first draft I’ve no idea who did it, why they did it, what’s going on here. … I think I was 20 or 30 pages from the end of the first draft of this one and there were three or four people in my head that it could be … so if I don’t know, then probably the reader doesn’t know either. I just trust to the muse. I trust that the novel has a sense of where it wants to go and it will take me there.”

You can hear my interview with Ian Rankin this Sunday morning at 11 on WYSO-FM (91.3).

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