The Devil's in the Detail

Rather Be The Devil

by Ian Rankin

‘Darryl Christie’s closed eyes were puffy and bruised, his nose swollen with dried blood caking the nostrils. A foam head brace had been rigged up with further support around his neck.’

Set in Edinburgh like most of Rankin’s stories, Rather Be The Devil brings together all of the author’s favourite characters in a single complex thriller.


John Rebus, retired from the police force but quite unable to keep his nose out of police business, is puzzling over a 40-year-old cold case – the murder of society girl Maria Turquand. Meanwhile, DI Siobhan [pronounced shaw-von] Clarke is investigating an assault on would-be Mr Big, Darryl Christie, who has been badly beaten up in his own driveway. The chief suspect is Big Ger Cafferty, Edinburgh’s other big time gangster, considered by some to be in retirement.

DI Malcolm Fox, former Complaints officer, now attached to a new Scottish crime unit, is interested in Christie too, but for different reasons. HMRC suspects Christie of being behind an international money-laundering operation and Fox has been told to investigate.

When another retired policeman – whom Rebus has recently met in connection with his own enquiry – is pulled out of Leith Docks, the cases take on a more sinister aspect involving drugs, shady gambling establishments and the missing millions ‘belonging’ to a ruthless Ukrainian gangster.

” ‘Don’t suppose it matters,’ Rebus conceded. ‘Maria Turquand wasn’t killed for the contents of her purse …. Ever wondered why she was murdered that day, Dougie?’ “

It soon becomes evident that there is a connection between the three cases. Several suspects in the old murder case are still alive. They have apparently moved on with their lives but are carrying around the secrets of the past. Rebus, Clarke and Fox, acting in collaboration set out to discover what those secrets are. Rebus’s maverick approach to police work, not to mention his relationship with Cafferty, causes friction at times but the three eventually stumble on the truth. However, they don’t get there before we have some more broken heads, or worse.

‘The figure filled the doorway, silhouetted against the sodium street lighting. The arm swung down and [spoiler] staggered back at the impact of hammer against skull. His vision blurred and his knees went from under him.’

Rather Be The Devil is a superb crime novel. Rankin introduces a huge cast of characters, on both sides of the law, but he handles them, and the complex plot with expert ease.  As always, his portrayal of the two sides of Edinburgh gives added atmosphere to the novel. The twisted strands of the investigations make it very difficult to work out (or even to guess) the solution in advance of the final chapters. Some of the lesser detectives seem to have no relevance to the story – though you never can tell with Ian Rankin – and I admit difficulty in getting to grips with their ranks and their function.


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