The return of John Rebus has been one of the great comebacks of the past 12 months, along with that of The Rolling Stones – one of the fictional Edinburgh detective’s favourite bands. (Ian Rankin even named Let It Bleed and breakthrough novel Black and Blue after albums by the Stones.) Having retired Rebus after 17 books, Rankin started on a new crime series featuring the reformed alcoholic Malcolm Fox, an internal affairs police investigator.
Fox is a cold fish and readers have not relished the series as much as several hours in the company of the bloody-minded Rebus. So it was a cunning move by Rankin to bring Rebus back as a civilian working cold cases with Fox as a minor character, who’s cast as the ex-cop’s nemesis and determined to prevent him taking advantage of the raising of the police retirement age to re-join the force. Standing in Another Man’s Grave begins with Rebus contented – he still enjoys a drink in the Oxford Bar and listening to classic rock on vinyl as he nods off in an armchair – and coping with boredom by winding up the young, ambitious boss in cold cases. He’s even reached a truce with arch-enemy and local villain “Big Ger” Cafferty.
This routine’s disrupted when Rebus is persuaded to follow up on the case of a missing girl by her mother. Soon patterns are emerging with that disappearance in 1999 and recent cases of missing women, and Rebus leaves the familiar Edinburgh streets (and pubs) for a road trip along the A9 to the Scottish Highlands. He’s also reunited with his English protégée, DI Siobhan Clarke, and their relationship, fractious but with an unbreakable bond, is at the heart of a novel that has some sly references to the upcoming 2014 independence referendum. Rankin and Rebus are on fine form here – and it promises good things for the next book in the revived Scottish crime series, Saints of the Shadow Bible (out 7 November).