Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin

The saints of the shadow Bible (from a song by Jackie Leven) were what a group of Scottish police officers in one Edinburgh station called themselves thirty years ago. John Rebus was a newbie at the time and, fortunately for him, was not entirely trusted or embraced by the officers.

Fortunately, because now, thirty years later, in a period of Scottish police reorganization, a revision of Scotland's double jeopardy law, and passions running high over Scotland's independence movement, the Solicitor General for Scotland is asking questions about an old case and the way the Saints handled it.

Add to this already rich mix a peculiar traffic accident that Rebus and his now-superior Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke investigate. (One mystery to me is why "Siobhan" is pronounced "She-vahn.") Rebus, who had left the force in an earlier book, one of nineteen Rebus novels, is now a Detective Sergeant. He still smokes too much and is too independent by half for most of his bosses.

And to make even more mischief, there is DI Malcolm Fox from two earlier Ian Rankin novels. Fox, an exceptionally precise and intelligent Inspector from Professional Standards (in the U.S., it would probably be Internal Affairs), has been charged with finding out exactly what happened thirty years earlier and why a police snitch apparently got away with murder.

I don't want to say much more, only that as faithful readers know Rankin's mysteries are both rich and complicated. Rebus, Clarke, and Fox are all interesting characters, and Rankin is able to populate the story with probably two dozen minor characters, all sharply sketched. One quick example: "The woman was young--midtwenties maybe. Dyed red hair and a short coat below which was a presumably shorter dress. Rebus though he recognized her from one of the photos [of showgirls] in the lobby. She'd had a footballer's arm draped around her. Perfume was filling the room, replacing the oxygen."

So the book offers at least two pleasures: a complex yet comprehensible mystery that we follow as Rebus, Clarke, and Fox attempt to tease out the threads of truth and writing that in a few sentences describes an action, a scene, a character, or all three. My one objection: Once I started, everything stopped until I finished. But that's a good problem.

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