by Ian Rankin
Like Witch Hunt, which I reviewed two days ago, Tooth and Nail is a Rankin novel from the early 1990s. This one features Inspector John Rebus, but in an unusual setting.
Rebus is called to London by the Met to assist in catching the Wolfman, a serial killer responsible for the deaths of several woman. Having cut his victims’ throats, the Wolfman then bites them on the stomach.
‘GET THIS, I’M NOT HOMOSEXUL, OK? WOLFMAN IS WHAT WOLFMAN DOES NEXT IS THIS: HE KILLS YOU. DON’T WORRY, IT WON’T HURT.’
On arriving in the Capital, Rebus teams up with London detective Inspector George Flight. The two men seem to have little in common and indeed have great difficulty at first understanding one another. In spite of this problem (which I feel sure Mr Rankin has exaggerated for comedic effect) they build a rapport. Not all the Met officers are quite so friendly and try to make life difficult for Rebus for sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong.
Rebus finds another ally in psychologist Lisa Frazer, who has been studying the crimes and offers her help. However, it is not so much Frazer’s analysis of the case that interests the Scotsman but her body, and before long they are . . . well, you get the picture, so I won’t go on.
Also in London are Rebus’s ex-wife Rhona and their daughter Samantha. Sam is dating a young motorbike messenger called Kenny Watkiss, who has criminal connections, a distraction the detective doesn’t need. Does Kenny have anything to do with the case? Probably not, but solving that problem without incurring his daughter’s anger will require all Rebus’s cunning and a bit of unconventional police work.
‘He staggered, dropped to his knees. They were on him immediately, seven or eight of them, hands gouging into his pockets …. A training shoe caught Rebus on the chin and sent him flying. He was concentrating on not losing consciousness.’
Rebus plans to bring the Wolfman into the open by releasing information to the press. He succeeds but, unfortunately, in doing so exposes Lisa to danger. Flight arranges a safe house for her but before she can get to it she disappears. Already unsure whether the Wolfman is a man or a woman, Rebus even begins to suspect that one of his enemies in the police force is the killer.
But is Frazer really what she seems to be? I’ll leave you guessing.
‘And a piercing scream, two piercing screams, both high-pitched, feminine in their intensity, and the black car didn’t take the next bend, flew straight for the pavement, mounted it and bounced into a bus shelter ….’
The climax of Tooth and Nail sees the Scotsman commandeering a fast car and chasing his quarry at high speed through the busy streets of a city he doesn’t know. If his suspicions are wrong, he is in real trouble, not to mention his career and freedom if he kills someone.
Tooth and Nail is a satisfying thriller though maybe not Rankin’s best. The character of Rebus improves a lot in later novels. However, this one is suitably gruesome in places, with glimpses of a serial killer’s warped mind. There is lots of tension, a clash of cultures and a healthy dose of humour. False trails abound and my attempt to solve the case before the end of the book came to nothing. I was way, way off!