- - Friday, October 25, 2019

In Ian Rankin’s latest John Rebus crime novel, “In a House of Lies,” we find the retired Scottish detective inspector suffering from COPD and living alone with his dog, Brillo.

Throughout Ian Rankin’s popular series of crime novels, John Rebus has been portrayed as a flawed but decent and honorable man. Brooding, cynical and sarcastic, the curmudgeonly former detective previously found solace in his love of music, smoking and drinking, but the COPD has ended the smoking and drinking for him.

A former British soldier who served in Northern Ireland during the “Troubles,” John Rebus left the army and joined the police. Throughout the series, he has taken on serial killers, gangsters and corrupt politicians. He often took on his bosses as well.

As Mr. Rankin aged his character in real time (like Michael Connelly’s LAPD detective Harry Bosch), the author was compelled to retire John Rebus from the police force when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 60. And despite the popularity of the character, the retired detective was not always the center of the action in the later novels.

Divorced from his wife, with his daughter and granddaughter living a good distance away, Rebus has few friends and a stalled romance with pathologist Deborah Quant, so he has to be content with walking Brillo and listening to music in his flat.    

But when a group of small boys discover an old car abandoned in the woods near Edinburgh, Scotland, that contains in the trunk the remains of a young private detective who was the subject of a contentious missing persons case back in 2008, John Rebus becomes involved in the reopening of the cold case.

The missing person case received much negative publicity due to the flawed investigation and accusations of police misconduct from the private detective’s parents. The private detective, Stuart Bloom, was gay and his partner, Derek Shankley, was the son of a tough, old-school Glasgow detective.

Stuart Bloom had been working for Jackie Ness, a producer of poorly made films like “Zombies v Bravehearts,” who was in a feud with Sir Adrian Brand, a well-connected businessman who ran a business empire in Scotland. The case remained opened as no body had been found — until now.

Complicating the discovery of the remains was the fact that Stuart Bloom’s feet had been secured with handcuffs, lending to suspicions of police involvement in the murder. Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke, John Rebus’ friend and former partner, is assigned to the newly assembled team tasked with solving the cold case. She is still under a cloud, as she had been investigated and cleared for unauthorized leaking police information to a reporter, but the new boss believes in her.

Siobhan Clarke, a regular series character, is English, way younger than John Rebus and has a university degree. She is ambitious and follows police procedure, while her old partner and mentor usually took the intuitive approach. Despite their differences, or perhaps because of them, they were, and remain, a good team.

While investigating the Stuart Bloom case, Siobhan Clarke is being harassed with phone calls and someone vandalized her front door. As she is absorbed with her new case, she sees her old partner and asks John Rebus to look into who is harassing her and why. John Rebus investigates gladly and discovers the harassment stems from a young man who is in prison for stabbing his girlfriend.      

And also appearing in the novel is John Rebus’ old nemesis, Morris Gerald Cafferty, known as “Big Ger” to the criminal empire he oversaw in Edinburgh. The Scottish gangster and John Rebus have a complicated history together and the clever, brutal Scottish gangster both aids and foils the investigation into the murder of Stuart Bloom.  

“Morris Gerald Cafferty lived in a penthouse duplex in the Quarter-mile development, just across the Meadows from Rebus’ tenement. Rebus tied Brillo up at the entrance and pressed the bell. A camera lens was above it. Rebus got in close, knowing his face would be filling a small monitor somewhere upstairs,” Mr. Rankin writes. “Last time he’d been there, Cafferty gangland rival Darryl Christie had been only a few minutes ahead of him, armed and looking to take Cafferty out. But Cafferty had prevailed, and Christie was serving time, meaning Edinburgh belonged to Cafferty now, and this was his eyrie, protected by CCTV and Concierges.”

I enjoyed revisiting Ian Rankin’s regular characters and I especially enjoyed revisiting Scotland, as I lived there for two years while serving in the U.S. Navy some years.

“In a House of Lies” is a clever mystery and crime story and fans of the series, as well as new readers, will enjoy it.

• Paul Davis covers crime, espionage and terrorism.

• • •


By Ian Rankin

Little Brown, $27, 372 pages

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