Nearly four years after reading the first novel in the Rebus series I have finally returned to read the second. This puts me in fine form to finish the series sometime in the 22nd century.
This installment finds Detective Inspector John Rebus investigating a death that everyone else would be fine just writing off as another drug overdose. After warning his friend Tracy to hide Ronnie McGrath is found dead on the floor of the decrepit old building he’s been squatting in. There are candles on the floor, a pentagram painted in red on the wall, and a bag of practically pure heroin found at Ronnie’s side.
Unfortunately, the heroin inside Ronnie turns out to have been pure poison, and that difference leads Rebus on a path to some unlikely places in his search for the person or persons responsible for Ronnie’s death. Along the way he enlists the reluctant cooperation of a couple of younger police officers and he tries to stay out of sight of his superintendent, who has decided that Rebus is the perfect person to head an anti-drug task force.
Rebus is an interesting figure to center a story around. Though he’s literary and bright he’s also gruff and hard to get along with. This book finds him separated from his partner Gill and living in a flat with no food in the cupboards, no washing machine and a bed that’s just a mattress on the floor. With no home life to speak of he spends his evenings getting too drunk in Edinburgh’s less reputable pubs.
The drink, however, doesn’t seem to dull his keen intelligence and understanding of human nature. Rebus does a lot by intuition and guesswork, but his guesses are usually good. Like all the great detectives he has his stumbles, like when he underestimates his adversaries and finds himself in compromised positions, but in the end he’s found his man. Of course, Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh is a seedy enough town that finding the guilty party might not mean as much as it should.