Rebus 1993

Mortal Causes

by Ian Rankin

‘Big Ger Cafferty was looking good. He was fit and lean and had purpose to his gait. A white t-shirt was tight across his chest, flat across ths stomach, and he wore faded work denims and new-looking tennis shoes. He walked into the Visiting Room like he was the visitor, Rebus the inmate.’

Between having my eyes lasered, and a cataract removed, I have been having a stressful few weeks. However, I managed to read a couple of Ian Rankin novels along the way.

Mortal Causes, published in 1994 but set mostly during the Edinburgh Festival the previous year, is the sixth of Rankin’s detective stories to feature Inspector John Rebus. It is a murky, brutal story of murder and mayhem, set partly in Northern Ireland, and captures much of the horror of the pre-Good Friday Agreement ‘Troubles’.

Many visitors to Edinburgh will have heard of, and perhaps even visited the gloomy Mary King’s Close, a network of passages and chambers under the present-day High Street. It is there that the first murder takes place. Almost from the start, Rebus suspects a sectarian connection, but the possibility of a more serious terrorist attack on the city cannot be ruled out.

The murdered man is the son of Rebus’s enduring antagonist, Big Ger Cafferty, one of the main players in Edinburgh’s underworld of drugs and corruption, and Cafferty wants the murderer caught. Although the death has all the hallmarks of an IRA killing, the investigation takes the detectives on the trail of Sword and Shield, a secretive, extremist group on the fringes of the Orange Order.

‘Rebus tutted at Siobhan Clarke. “How long have you lived here? Jaffas are Orangemen.” ‘

With a complex plot and a complexity of police officers, including murder squads, Special Branch and RUC, with a fringe involvement of the FBI, Mortal Causes takes the reader on a trail round the city of Edinburgh and beyond. We follow Rebus and his colleagues through the festival atmosphere of the Old and New Towns, and the pipe bands and colourful pageantry of an Orange parade, to the grim atmosphere of a gang-infested council estate. As is usual in Rebus novels, there are a few interesting female characters too – DC Siobhan Clarke, journalist Mairie Henderson and, in this case a medium-term relationship with a doctor, Patience Aitken, whom he lives with. And, if anyone needs patience in this story, it is Patience!! Friendship with John Rebus can be life-threatening.

‘There was only one exit from the alley, and he took it, running past Cafferty’s men. Rebus took a deep breath, then sank to his knees and threw up onto the ground. His coat was ruined, but that was the least of his problems.’

The detective is punched, kicked and otherwise molested more times than one cares to count, yet emerges from the fray with his honour and integrity intact – by his own standards at any rate. Some of the subject matter here is controversial, like the Catholic-Protestant divide, but Ian Rankin handles it tactfully. Mortal Causes sees the characters of Rebus, Clarke and Cafferty at the development stage. However, they are sufficiently rounded to make us want to read more.


2 thoughts on “Rebus 1993

  1. Pingback: Rebus 2022 – Bookheathen Scribblings

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