Ian Rankin

Edinburgh’s mandatory retirement age for police forced Inspector John Rebus to retire in 2007, as Ian Rankin detailed in Exit Music. That was six books ago. A Song for the Dark Times, the 23rd installment of the internationally acclaimed Rebus series, finds the cantankerous crime stopper with a bum heart and lungs, a broken down Saab and two mysteries to solve.

The first offers a chance at personal redemption. Rebus regrets that he hadn’t been a better parent to his daughter, Samantha; the job always came first. So when she calls late one night in distress he rushes to see her aid in the small Scottish town of Naver. She is the prime suspect in the death of her partner, Keith Grant, on whom she had cheated with a member of a sketchy, perhaps criminal local commune.

Meanwhile, back in Edinburgh, Rebus’ protégé, DI Siobhan Clarke, is investigating the murder of a wealthy Saudi playboy who had a James Bond-obsession (while taking care of Rebus’ new dog, Brillo). As the pages fly by the two cases become more entwined through Rankin’s clever plotting, that never seems forced, but is always organic to the story. As Stuart Kelly observed in The Scotsman, “Rankin sets multiple hares running, and the various suspects and causes zig-zag just like a hare on the hill.”

But the pyrotechnics never get in the way of character development. “Rankin’s skillful plotting is fueled by attention to character and intriguing backstories,” Oline H. Cogdill wrote in her Sun-Sentinel review. “Samantha is both relieved and grateful Rebus is there, but also angry and resentful at his presence, emotions pent up from her childhood. Always an outsider, Rebus is even more outside his element in a strange town.”

The novel also displays Rankin’s gift for social commentary as he shows how the seemingly down to earth hippies at the commune near Naver are not so different from the hedonistic aristocrats in Edinburgh.

While Rebus remains at the top of his game, time stops for no person. Jonathan Elderfield of the Associated Press notes, “Rebus is still the dogged investigator, able to make intuitive leaps about the dark places that inhabit the human soul and lead some to commit murder, whether in the distant past or in more recent times. Rankin will in time, likely retire Rebus for good, so we should appreciate him while we still have him.”

Ian Rankin’s Top Ten List

1. King Lear by William Shakespeare (1605).
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869).
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866)
Ulysses by James Joyce (1922)
Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1853)
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
1984 by George Orwell (1948)
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)