Rebus 2022

A Heart Full of Headstones

by Ian Rankin

‘John Rebus had been in court plenty of times, but this was his first time in the dock.’

So begins A Heart Full of Headstones, my second Rankin read of the month. Unlike Mortal Causes, it is set in the present day during the Covid pandemic, and it immediately poses the question, what is going on?

A Heart Full of Headstones (the title from a song by Jackie Leven ##) depicts both protagonist John Rebus and antagonist Morris Gerald Cafferty in a very different light from the 1994 novel. Rebus has COPD and finds climbing stairs an ordeal, but is as gung-ho as ever; Cafferty has apparently “retired” and is in a wheelchair. The novel also features Siobhan Clarke, now a DI, Malcolm Fox, also a DI, and several other cops who have been introduced in earlier books.

‘Nodding to himself [Rebus] got into the car and reversed up the lane. He was half way to the main road when he saw the bikes heading straight for him ….. And there at the centre was the face he knew. He watched as the boy, teeth bared in fury, drew something from his waistband. “Christ,” he said aloud as the pistol was aimed at his windscreen.’

The plot centres on an ex-cop called Francis Haggard from the Tynecastle police station, accused of beating his wife. Tynecastle (in fiction anyway) is notorious as a nest of corrupt officers who are fond of cutting corners. Haggard claims he has PTSD and is threatening to blow the whistle on Tynecastle if the police don’t leave him alone. And Rebus’s name has been linked to the dubious goings on there. Clarke and her Edinburgh colleagues in the regular force are working the case while Fox – based at the Police Scotland Special Crimes Unit – is investigating the corruption angle, and they do tend to get in one another’s way. Rebus is working on the fringes at the behest of Cafferty, trying to find a former crook, Jack Oram, who is supposedly dead. Of course, each has his own agenda. And Rebus is getting in everyone’s way!

One of Cafferty’s former businesses, a letting agency, is now owned and run by the Mackenzie Family, who employ Oram’s son Tommy for odd jobs. When Haggard is found dead in one of the properties, the domestic abuse case becomes one of murder, and there is no shortage of suspects: a retired police officer, half-a-dozen serving officers, and young Oram, as well as Beth Mackenzie (an ex of Cafferty) and her daughter Gaby – not forgetting Haggard’s widow and his sister-in-law.

A Heart Full of Headstones has a typically complex plot with a large cast of characters – cops, villains, journalists, and even a few relatively innocent citizens. But the obvious question is: who is innocent and who isn’t?

‘Rebus liked the look of the judge. He seemed the type to pour you a good whisky, no matter who you were. The senior counsel was giving a nod, satisfied with whatever he”d been checking. He licked his lips.’

This is great stuff from Rankin, who has preserved and developed his chief characters through more than twenty stories over a period of thirty-five years. The fictional world he has built round them has become as real and enduring as the real Edinburgh. Rebus has almost become the author’s alter ego. This story keeps you guessing until the end, even when you suspect you know where it’s heading.

## ‘I was a single father

But I just can’t complain

Got a heart full of headstones

As I step down from the train.’


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