Orion, 1997, 399 p including 2 p Afterword and 1 p Acknowledgements.
It is the eighth of Rankin’s Rebus novels and sees Inspector John Rebus, banished to Craigmillar for various indiscretions, and investigating the suspicious death of Allan Mitchison, an oil worker who had made unfortunate connections. It is not long before Rebus is once more ruffling feathers, both of his superiors and of the criminal fraternity. His nose for the truth and the links he makes to a current serial killer nicknamed Johnny Bible (because of the similarities of his murders to the famous Bible John case of the 1960s) leads Rebus to Glasgow, Aberdeen, Shetland and an oil-rig in the North Sea. Meanwhile he is incidentally trying to deal with his over-fondness for alcohol and also being stalked by a TV crew looking into a possible miscarriage of justice from early in Rebus’s career. It’s all admirably well plotted and suitably twisted and turned. If a bit too much when Rebus himself is questioned for one of Johnny Bible’s murders.
Where it broke down for me was the interpolation into the story of “Bible John” himself, returned to Scotland from time spent in the US where he had married, now an executive in the oil business, not at all pleased that some upstart is stealing his thunder, and whose viewpoint we inhabit at the end of several of the chapters. I think my unease would have been the case even without the renewed interest in Bible John which struck between the writing of Black and Blue and its publication and the later possibility that Bible John was/is convicted killer Peter Tobin. To me it seemed Rankin portrays his “Bible John” as a more intelligent, even thoughtful, individual than he in fact was/is.
On Aberdeen’s dependence on oil money Rebus reflects that the oil won’t be there for ever. “Growing up in Fife Rebus had seen the same with coal: no one planned for the day it would run out. When it did hope ran out with it.” True as far as it goes. Except the coal didn’t run out: there’s still plenty coal under Fife or the Firth of Forth. It was government policy to shut mines – mostly to destroy workers’ rights and trade union influence.
Yes, it deals with one of the most high profile Scottish criminal cases of the twentieth century and has Tom Nairn’s dictum on the conditions for Scotland’s rebirth as a section quote but I can see no compelling reason why this book should be in a top one hundred.
Pedant’s corner:- halogen orange (of street lights? Sodium orange, yes,) there were a couple (was,) there were a few (was,) a team were (was,) – the text is littered with singular nouns followed by plural verbs – Geddes’ (appeared several times, yet once we had what I would prefer, Geddes’s,) there were dozens fit the description (fitted,) popadums (it’s usually poppadums,) Stevens’ (Stevens’s,) disks (even for computers the British English is still discs,) dishels, (???) thirty-five mils (mil; an abbreviation subsumes its plural, even when it’s written as it’s spoken,) ‘Laying low.’ (Lying low; but it was in dialogue and lying low appeared in text later,) Forres’ (Forres’s,) sat (sitting,) McIness’ (McIness’s.)