The Retired Cop
My third (and last) fictional detective of the week is not exactly a ‘classic’, but he has been around for a few years now. John Rebus, creation of Scottish crime novelist Ian Rankin, was born in 1947 (we are told on Rankin’s website). However, he did not make his appearance on the Edinburgh police force until 1985.
‘Time to call it a night. Four was plenty. His doctor had told him: best cut it out altogether. Rebus had asked for a second opinion.
‘ “Here it is then,” the doctor had said. “You should stop smoking too.” ‘
My first observation is that my three detectives seem to smoke a lot. Rebus certainly does – he also drinks rather a lot; Cormoran Strike does too, and Philip Marlowe is always lighting up. [Golly gosh, I nearly wrote Philip Morris!]
Set in post-Scottish Referendum Edinburgh, the latest Rankin novel to feature Rebus is Even Dogs in the Wild, in which a distinguished former lawyer Lord Minton is found battered to death in his home. At about the same time, an unknown gunman takes a shot at ageing Edinburgh gangster Ger Cafferty. Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke discovers that Minton and Cafferty have received identical threatening letters. However, she is getting nowhere with the case and calls on Rebus – now retired – for help.
Meanwhile, a crack Glasgow CID force is on a surveillance op on Glasgow Mobster Joe Stark, who seems to have designs on the Edinburgh underworld. Malcolm Fox, another of Ian Rankin’s main protagonists, is seconded to the team.
‘The body was wrapped in a plain blue bedsheet. Or it had been. The trip had loosened the makeshift shroud. The driver rested the shovel against one of the tail lights, but it slid to the ground … Which was when the corpse burst into life …’
Are the two cases connected is the question Clarke, Fox and Rebus have to answer and if so, how? Rebus forms an alliance with Cafferty, an old adversary, to get an insight into mob activities and soon suspects that at least one of the cases is tied to a former youth “correction” facility, where the inmates have been abused by prominent members of Edinburgh society. Even a senior policeman and an MP may have been involved in a cover-up. Pursuing separate lines of enquiry, Rebus and the two police detectives eventually arrive at the truth but not before there are more murders and beatings – and even Fox ends up in hospital!
Even Dogs in the Wild is a fast-moving “cop and robbers” story but rather than thrilling car chases it gives us mostly cerebral, painstaking police work. The reader’s excitement comes from trying to work out the puzzle ahead of the professionals. Ian Rankin seems to know what goes on in Police Scotland and gives this piece of fiction a very probable and realistic feel. The dark lanes and seedy public houses of the underworld contrast sharply with the luxury hotels and terraced mansions of the Edinburgh upper set, yet the two coalesce in the merging lives of their respective inhabitants.
I think Even Dogs in the Wild has a few too many characters; it is hard to remember all the names and sometimes to recall their place in the plot. Nevertheless, the characterisation, especially of the three main investigators, whom we already know from previous Rankin novels, is good. The reader finds it easy to empathise, even when their annoying traits come to the surface. [eg Rebus dribbling his beer]
Like Career of Evil, which I wrote about yesterday, the title of this novel comes from the world of popular music. Even Dogs in the Wild is a number by a Scottish New-Wave band of the 1970s and 80s, The Associates.