Inspector John Rebus is having a tough time. His girlfriend, with whom he has recently moved in, has thrown him out, leaving him stranded in his own flat which is now full of students as well as his brother, who has recently been released from prison. To make matters worse, his underling is found in an alley behind an Elvis-themed eatery with a headwound and no idea how he got there. Rebus investigates but is soon thwarted both by his superiors and by a devious Edinburgh gangster, whose name I have already forgotten because MY GOD there are a lot of characters in this book.
Other than that, I actually enjoyed this novel more than any of the previous Rebus instalments. We sometimes tend to forget that crime fiction as a genre has evolved quite a bit since the late eighties and early nineties, when Rankin first started to write his novels. Here, we can clearly see him finding his footing. Rebus, in previous books, was often an uneven character: moody and brooding in one book, clownish and almost picaresque in the next. Here, he seems to have stabilised: he’s still got his wry, bleak sense of humour (‘tis the Scottish way) but he’s a bit less – for want of a better word – manic. He’s also less likely to sleep with any woman he runs into, so there’s that. Also, Rankin had a bit too much fun with Elvis-themed food names (Blue Suede Choux, Love Me Tenderloin, you get the idea) but hey, who doesn’t love a good pun?
I also liked that loose ends from previous novels appear to have been tied up, like Rebus’s brother or the fact that he was an avid church goer in the first novel, which was never mentioned after that. Most of the novel, though, focuses on the central mystery, which is somewhat overcomplicated but nonetheless gripping and compelling, if a little hard to follow.
So far, I’ve been reading the Rebus books because I was curious to see what the fuss was about. It takes a while for the series to get going, but if the next books are anything like this one then I won’t regret picking it up.