This is the last book where DI Rebus operates as a detective inspector in the Lothian and Borders police force. His retirement is imminent. This is reflected throughout the book, both in his physical condition as he struggles to keep up with younger colleagues leaping up tenement stairs and in his wish to tie up a few loose ends - in particular in relation to his old enemy “Big Ger Cafferty”.
Rebus’ colleagues and superiors are very aware that he won’t be with them much longer. Siobhan Clarke, his trusted sergeant, is tipped for promotion and is already feeling her feet - running the show her way - which is in many ways Rebus’ way. This sense of the story coming full circle is emphasised by the way the book starts. “The girl screamed once, only once, but it was enough.” The exact same beginning as the first Rebus novel, Knots and Crosses.
As ever, this story is set against the background of real events, including the growth of the influence of the Scottish Parliament and the poisoning of the Russian, Litvinenko, in London. The series as a whole cleverly tracks the development of political power and attitudes in Scotland and, in particular, reflects the growth of the city and the attitudes of the people of Edinburgh.
Rebus is an old fashioned cop who is beginning to feel out of place in the modern force - as is seen in his asides to Siobhan, who definitely represents the modern face of policing. His background and history seem to take much from Rankin’s own life, especially his interest in music. The strength of the series is, I think, the highly resonant and deep humanity of Rebus. He is nobody’s idea of a team player and can definitely be unpleasant at times. Yet, he doggedly works to bring the criminal to book. He doesn’t care too much about offending officialdom and there is vicarious pleasure to be had in watching him upset the “high hidyans”.
Rebus’ life revolves mostly around his job, as his relationships always seem to fail. Alcohol – and, especially, the drinkers at the Oxford Bar - are his closest companions. We must wonder what is left for him after the job finishes.
After Rebus, the next most important “character” in the book is Edinburgh itself. The detail of the modern life of the city is beautifully observed and described against the backdrop of both ancient and modern buildings and streets. This contributes greatly to the reality of the story. The motives of the new politicians and elite in Edinburgh, in particular, are carefully noted.
This is the book that all Rebus fans have been dreading for years… Yes, I am sad to see the end of the series but, if Rankin’s sense of reality and real-time storytelling are to be honoured, he had to go. Naturally, I do wonder (and hope!) if he may appear in a future book? Perhaps as an unofficial support for Siobhan – or, more likely, a thorn in her flesh!
Farewell Rebus, you’ve served us well.