REVIEW

A Song For Dark Times, Ian Rankin's latest Rebus novel, is the perfect antidote for our own strange days

  • A Song for Dark Times, by Ian Rankin. Orion, $32.99.

Ian Rankin's creation Detective Inspector John Rebus has endured in the bestseller lists for the past 30 years, having first appeared in Knots and Crosses in 1987. Rankin's Rebus novels are basically police procedurals but with a grim undertone that has led to them being called "tartan noir".

Rebus is a fascinating, flawed man. Obsessive about his work but with a tendency to bend the rules, ignore his supervisors and associate with known criminals, particularly crime boss, Big Ger Cafferty.

Rebus, however, is now retired and, suffering from COPT, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, has moved to a ground floor flat in his Edinburgh tenement, because he can no longer manage the stairs.

Unexpectedly, he receives a phone call from his estranged daughter Samantha, who lives with her partner Keith and their child in an isolated village on the wild north coast, eight miles east of Tongue.

Keith has been missing for two days and Samantha is scared the police will think she had something to do with it, because everyone in the village knows she has had an affair with the charismatic leader of a local commune, Jess Hawkins.

Rebus drives north and inevitably conducts his own investigation alongside that of the local police. He discovers Keith's obsession with local history and the nearby wartime internment camp 1033. Keith's plans to buy and turn the camp into a tourist attraction had led to an angry confrontation with the landowner, Lord Strathy.

Rebus understands Keith's interest in the camp and "his anger at the injustice ... neighbours were locked up just because they had been born outside the UK. People began to distrust their bakers, grocers and restaurant owners. 'Collar the lot', Churchill had said". And they did.

Meanwhile in Edinburgh, Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke is part of a team, which includes another of Rankin's favourite characters, Malcolm Fox of the Major Crimes Division, investigating the murder of a rich Saudi student, Salman bin Mahmoud. A handsome 23-year-old, Salman emulated the lifestyle of James Bond, including driving an Aston Martin DB.

Although enrolled in a business school in London, Salman owns a four-storey Georgian town house in Edinburgh's New Town because of his fascination with Sean Connery, a "Son of Edinburgh".

When Lord Strathy's name emerges as a person of interest in the murder in Edinburgh, Rebus and Clarke wonder if the two cases are connected even though they are hundreds of miles apart.

In Rankin's Scotland, the police are persistent and clever while criminals are cunning and complex. The result is complex, clever and engrossing crime fiction.

This story Rebus' dark times to tide us through our own first appeared on The Canberra Times.