Although John Rebus’s name is emblazoned on the cover of Rather Be the Devil, Ian Rankin’s ensemble cast is becoming increasingly intrinsic to the irascible detective’s world. And that’s not a bad thing. Thanks to the distinct personalities of Rebus, Siobhan Clarke, Malcolm Fox, and two Edinburgh gangsters – Big Ger Cafferty and Darryl Christie – this is a multilayered whodunnit that will keep even the sharpest readers asking questions until the very last page. Rest assured, loyalists: Rankin and Rebus remain as peerless as ever.
Rebus’s mortality has been hinted at in recent novels, but in Rather Be the Devil, it’s like a slap in the face. There is no avoiding it. Our mate Rebus isn’t doing so well. Prone to violent fits of coughing, he’s given up the cigarettes and limited his boozing. Which isn’t to say he’s a changed man. Rebus is like a dog with a bone; once he latches on, he won’t let go. The bone, in this instance, is an unsolved murder dating back forty years. Maria Turquand was murdered in her hotel room on the night a famous rock star and his entourage were staying in the same establishment. It’s stuck in Rebus’s mind for all that time, marinating. And now, retired, free as a bird, he uses his contacts at Police Scotland – hello Siobhan! – to access the file.
Meanwhile, Darryl Christie – Edinburgh’s wannabe criminal kingpin – has been viciously attacked outside his home. Is this a new player making a run at Christie’s territory? Or an old enemy looking to move back in? Fox and Clarke are on the case, which of course, clashes with Rebus’s seemingly unrelated and unsanctioned investigation.
Throughout Rather Be the Devil, Rankin flits confidently between characters, painting a portrait of modern day Edinburgh as he weaves a smart, brisk mystery. He combines Rebus’s hard-nosed cynicism with moments of real sentimentality, which coalesce into an exceptionally good read, with an ending that suggests Rebus it won’t be too long between drinks before and his cohorts reunite.
This is vintage Rebus and Rankin. It’s always such a treat to enter the mind of one of the most interesting personalities in crime fiction. Stay healthy, John!