Book Reviews

Saints of the Shadow Bible (Inspector Rebus, #19)Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Conspiracies, connections and coincidences,” says Malcolm Fox, Rankin’s younger detective who has been brought on the scene to replace the aging Rebus and who teams up for the first time with the old curmudgeon to solve a double murder, and those three Cs become the modus operandi of this book.

The plot is rather sketchy. There are actually two plots: one dating back to the ‘80’s when a young Rebus was introduced to a secret police team, Saints of the Shadow Bible, that used unconventional methods to bring criminals to justice; the other is set in the present when Rebus has returned from retirement out of boredom and rejoined the force as a DS (Detective Sergeant, a step down from his former Detective Inspector role) and is investigating a routine car accident involving some college students. DI Fox is investigating misdemeanours conducted by the Saints and hooks onto Rebus as his link into the past and into the group. Very soon, murder is introduced to both investigations. And some of the characters from both cases overlap, making one wonder whether the two puzzles are connected.

Thereafter, we go through endless cups of tea, coffee, alcohol, cigarettes and the workings of the police procedural, where plodding and dull work eventually produce results, especially when Rebus begins to see “conspiracies, connections and coincidences” in random events that others bypass. It was as if Rankin sat down with his 14 sections of the book (each section is a day in the life of the investigation) and sprinkled the story strands among them, and then drew them all back in the final two sections. All the murders are solved, needless to say, earning Rebus the wrath of his boss for his continuing unconventional methods, the gratitude of Fox (lining the two up for another book together), and the admiration of his mentee, Siobhan Clarke, now in Rebus’s old job as Detective Inspector. And in the epilogue, we see that despite internal investigations into unorthodox and illegal police methods, and a new way of doing things emerging in the Scottish Police force, you really can’t teach old dogs like Rebus new tricks.

I have read just one other Rebus novel, which I liked better than this one, and it may have been that I had been interested in him as a character in that first book, a deeply flawed human being with a total dedication to his job. In this book though, having now established his credentials, I was looking for more, and I didn’t find it. The prose was pedestrian, even clumsy in places and there was a lot of circular conversation, very little action. Contrivances are thrown in lavishly to advance the plot: “Do we need a crowbar somewhere? Then let’s just throw one in.” If at all I can heap praise, it is in the way the various strands of the investigation are woven together over the 14 days, in an oblique fashion, to close the case, with all the bad guys getting their comeuppance in their own deserving way.

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