- - Thursday, March 3, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

EVEN DOGS IN THE WILD

By Ian Rankin

Little, Brown and Company, $26, 352 pages

Ian Rankin’s character Scottish Detective Inspector John Rebus was a 40-year-old detective sergeant when we first meet him in 1987’s “Knots and Crosses.” As Mr. Rankin has aged his character in real time through his 20 crime novels, the crime novelist was compelled to retire Rebus from the police force and from the center of his novels, despite his popularity with readers.

Rebus is a flawed man. Brooding and sarcastic, Rebus only finds solace only in music, smoking, drinking and his job as a detective. He is estranged from his wife and daughter and has few friends. A former British soldier who served in Northern Ireland during the violent era known as “The Troubles,” Rebus joined the Scottish police and was successful as a detective. But in addition to battling organized crime members, serial killers and corrupt politicians, Rebus also took on his own police bosses.

After Mr. Rankin retired Rebus in 2007’s “Exit Music,” he continued to write additional crime novels that featured Rebus‘ partner and protege, Detective Inspector Siobhan (pronounced “shi-vawn”) Clarke, as well a new character, Malcom Fox of the Complaints Bureau (which is the equivalent to Internal Affairs in most U.S. police departments). Due to his unpopular job in Complaints as well as by his nature, Fox is a righteous, sad and lonely police officer.

Now in Mr. Rankin’s “Even Dogs in the Wild,” the curmudgeonly, cynical Rebus is back in the forefront. Rebus is serving as a consulting detective (like another popular fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes) for the police in Edinburgh, Scotland. Rebus is aiding Clarke and Fox in the investigation of a high profile murder of Lord David Menzies Minton, a former senior government prosecutor.

The murder looks at first as if it was a random act committed during a burglary, but Clarke wonders why nothing has been stolen and she is curious about a threatening note found on the scene. Despite her youth, English background, a university degree and an interest in technology — things that are repugnant and alien to Rebus — she became his trusted friend and colleague in the earlier novels and Rebus helped her become a fine detective.

Meanwhile Fox, shunned by his colleagues due to his past as a Complaints officer who locked up other police officers, is assigned to provide “ancillary support” to a Glasgow police surveillance unit sent to Edinburgh to investigate a notorious Glasgow crime family that has recently moved into the capital city. Clarke and Fox, who have become platonic friends through their mutual contact with Rebus, come together when they investigate the report of a gunshot through the front window of the home of Morris Gerald “Big Ger” Cafferty, a tough, ruthless and violent semi-retired Glasgow crime boss.

Cafferty tells the police officers there was no gunshot and his window was broken by accident. Clarke and Fox recruit the unhappily retired Rebus to talk to Cafferty, as the old cop and old villain have a long history, and despite being bitter adversaries, they have a sort of a mutual respect for each other. Also on the plus side, now that Rebus is no longer on the police force, Cafferty may speak more freely to him.

It turns out that Cafferty has received an identical threatening note to the one the former prosecutor received. The murder of a lottery-winner also complicates the case.

What the connection is to the unconnected men and the arrival of the Glasgow crime family and following police surveillance unit is what Clarke, Fox and Rebus try to uncover in “Even Dogs in the Wild” (the title of the novel comes from a song by the Scottish band the Associates).

“Edinburgh is the perfect setting for crime writing,” Mr. Rankin has said. “It has a split personality — on the one hand it is the city of history and museums and royalty, but at the same time there is this feeling that behind the thick walls of those Georgian townhouses there are all sorts of terrible things happening.”

I enjoy Mr. Rankin’s crime novels partly because they are well-written and interesting, and partly because they are set in Scotland. After serving two years on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War, I went on to serve on a U.S. Navy harbor tugboat at the American nuclear submarine base at Holy Loch, Scotland in 1974 and 1975, when Mr. Rankin was but a “wee laddie,” as they say over there.

My interest in Scotland and the Scottish people remain strong, but one does not have to share that interest in order to enjoy Mr. Rankin’s complex, gritty and realistic “Even Dogs in the Wild.”

Paul Davis is a writer who covers crime, espionage and terrorism.


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