Maybe I should take a break in my Rankin reading fest, because this episode in his Inspector Rebus series just didn’t grab me. Perhaps it is because all the main characters in the mystery were wealthy, self-indulgent, perverse and often vicious children masquerading as mature and responsible politicians, actors, book collectors, and businessmen, and as such, generated not the slightest interest nor sympathy on my part. Even the murder victim herself, who for no obvious reason becomes an object of near obsession on Rebus’ part, proves to be a sort of black widow in the center of the web of intrigue that makes up the plot, and nobody seems to regret her death except her selfsame playmates … and Rebus!
And perhaps it is because Rebus himself is kind of uninteresting in this story. A far cry from Rankins’ Knots and Crosses. In his personal life, Rebus exploits the affections of his girlfriend for companionship and sex on his terms while rather obviously preparing to jump ship. Early on, it becomes evident to the reader that Rebus doesn’t really know who he is or what he wants out of life, and isn’t all that concerned, making it hard for the reader to care. And on the job, he continues to indulge his whims and damn the rules. The fact is that Rebus’ appeal as the protagonist in Rankin’s long-running series has always been that he is a loose cannon, but in other Rebus novels that I’ve read, it is some inner moral code that usually drives the Inspector forward while in this one, it is more an inexplicable curiosity that causes him to stick his nose into an ill-defined and unspectacular case, and an even more inexplicable obsession that leads him to solve it. A subplot surrounding lost or stolen rare books seems like a throw-away.
The novel ends with a surprise twist but on an unsatisfyingly unresolved note when the murderer is identified but not caught—again, atypical of a Rebus novel. All this is not to say that Rankin’s descriptions of the Scottish environs are not fabulous. Similarly, his characters are well drawn and his mystery complex and well-plotted. It’s just that there was nothing really compelling about the story to draw me in.