I finished reading the latest Rebus book, Saints of the Shadow Bible a few days ago and have been wondering what to write about it that would do it justice. Ian Rankin is one of my favourite authors and his Rebus books never fail to impress me both with their ingenuity and the quality of their plots and characterisations – Saints of the Shadow Bible is no exception. In fact, I think it’s one of the best – a realistic and completely baffling mystery.
Rebus is now back on the force, the rules on retirement age having changed, but as a Detective Sergeant, not a DI and Siobhan Clarke is his boss. It begins with the discovery of a crashed car, on the face of it just a straight forward road traffic accident but it soon develops into a complex, multi-layered case, linking back to one of Rebus’s early cases on the force as a young Detective Constable. A case that with the changes in the double jeopardy law in Scotland can be reopened.
Rebus has always been an outsider, not one to play completely by the rules but his past gets put under scrutiny when Inspector Malcolm Fox investigates that case from the 1980s. There are suspicions that Rebus and his colleagues, who called themselves ‘The Saints of the Shadow Bible’ were involved in covering up a crime, allowing a murderer to go free.
The ‘Shadow Bible’ was a copy of Scots Criminal Law, a big black book
‘with a leather cover and brass screws. And we all spat on it and rubbed it in until it was dry. I thought it was a kind of oath, but it wasn’t – we were saying the rules could go to hell, because we knew we were better. We were the ones in the field …
The evidence was tainted, interviews hadn’t been conducted properly. How was Rebus involved, was he a Saint, and just how much did he know as a very junior member of the team?
The interaction between Rebus and Fox is one of the joys of this book as unlike Rebus, Fox does play by the rules. Ah, but does he? Beneath his controlled exterior Fox is just as much a loose cannon as Rebus, he’s not a team player either and it is fascinating to see how Rebus gets under his skin and reveals Fox’s true nature. For Rebus and Fox it’s the job that matters, but can they trust each other?
I wonder, though, just how much I would have enjoyed it if this was the first Rebus book I’d read. I have a feeling that I wouldn’t. There are characters who were in earlier books and references to previous cases which would have been lost on me otherwise. The first Rebus book I read was Set in Darkness (the 11th book) and whilst I had no difficulty in following who was who and their relationships I realised then that I had to read the books in order to fully understand the background and how the characters had evolved. I felt they were real people and I wanted to know more about them. I then went back to the beginning (Knots and Crosses) and read them in sequence, right up to the present day.
It’s all been an exhilarating and most enjoyable journey and I have a sneaking suspicion that this may indeed be the end – who knows? Only Ian Rankin and he isn’t telling, but he’s off on a year’s sabbatical in February and by then Rebus will almost be due a second retirement.