Owlcat’s #CBRV Review #9: Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin

Ian Rankin is a prolific detective mystery author from Scotland, to whom I was introduced several years ago by a friend in Finland.  I have read perhaps 10 of his novels and this is his most recent one, which over the course of time has followed a DI (detective), Rebus, in the Edinburgh police department.  Having aged along with the numerous novels, he has gradually worked his way through the ranks, and in this particular novel, he is semi-retired, having joined the cold case unit as a way of maintaining a semblance of usefulness.  He is not the sort of man who retires, moves to a cottage on the coast, and fishes or bird watches.  He needs to be in “the thick of things.”

In Standing in Another Man’s Grave, Rankin has Rebus behaving as his usual self, a man who is complicated, irascible, very much a maverick within the department throughout his life, “old school,” intuitive, and in frequent trouble with his superiors, sometimes to the point where The Complaints (which is their version of internal department investigators) have occasionally investigated his techniques and behaviors, never, however, finding enough evidence to do anything about him other than to annoy him and put him on notice.  He doesn’t care, as he is more determined to resolve cases and find perpetrators than worry about his own situation within the department, particularly in this newest novel, since he knows that once the case he resurrects is done, he’ll again be considered “redundant,” the British Isles term for “retired.” His drinking, which he has tempered somewhat since other appearances in other novels, and his cigarette habit are also a source of personality flaws that, along with his stubbornness and other above traits that are both good and bad, but all of which make him very believable and very human.  Despite my own adverse reactions to strong personalities, drinking and cigarette smoking, I always come away from these novels liking Rebus.

In this novel, the plot is as complicated as the man trying to solve it and at times, just a little difficult to follow, but that could also have been the result of my frequently trying to read it when I was a bit too tired.  All the characters are well developed and connect either directly or indirectly with Rebus and frequently with each other, sometimes resulting in their diverting the reader from the truth that at times is hinted at but easy to not see.  We leave that up to Rebus!

The story begins with his wanting to discover what happened to one particular girl who went missing many years ago and whose mother decides it is Rebus who can discover the truth.  In the course of investigating her case, he begins to see a pattern that had heretofore not been noticed and connects the dots, realizing they may well be indicating a serial killers’ presence in area of Inverness.  His methods to determine who this is involves his using his maverick and old school methods, while others at first dismiss his accusations until more technological evidence (i.e., computers) begin to suggest he may well be correct.  Even then, his unsubtle and tenacious willingness to step on toes, particularly those in authority, and his disregard for protocol when they and it get in the way of investigating, leads him to be thrown off the case, although Rebus being Rebus isn’t about to let that stop him.  In the midst of all this, however, is his care and concern for his former partner, DI Siobhan Clarke, and her therefore willing attempts to help him as best she can, even when he cautions her that he could be a bad influence on her, leads the two of them to a climactic ending that is satisfying and believable.

I highly recommend this book, along with all the other Ian Rankin novels, because none that I’ve read are boring and all are interesting, the characters, Rebus, John Fox in The Complaints series, Scotland itself, and the minor and major characters.  The books also can be read out of sequence, which is how I began reading them, though now I try to read them in sequence more for continuity than anything. This book in particular is exceptionally good. Maybe I relate more to the Rebus character now that I’m also retired and better understand all of the questions and insecurities he has internally, and the need to reconnect the present with the past. Even though he is an older character, however, I think anyone who enjoys a good detective story is going to enjoy this book.

llp’s #CBR V Review 3: Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin


This new Rebus novel is like slipping back into something familiar and comfortable. There aren’t really any surprises to the mystery, which sounds weird when I read it back to myself. However, I am so pleased to see the character back.

Valyruh’s #CBR5 Review #7: Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

This earliest Inspector Rebus mystery has all the makings of Rankin’s later successes, but with a simplicity of plot that, in some ways, makes it all the more powerful but in other ways left it somewhat lacking.

The mystery lies in the hand-delivered envelopes that keep arriving at the Inspector’s home, containing cryptic messages and either knotted strings or matchstick crosses. Rebus ignores them, as he is focused on the hunt for a serial killer of young girls, for which no clues seem to exist. Rebus is simultaneously bedding Gil Templer, the police department’s liason to the press, but can’t keep his drinking benders at bay long enough to determine whether the relationship has a future. In an apparent subplot, Templer and Rebus are under the close observation of a jaded reporter who is convinced that Rebus and his brother Michael are engaged in criminal activity, and is determined to make them the springboard for his next big scoop.

Through Rankin’s spare but effective prose—and a little help from a hypnotic trance–we delve deep into Rebus’ psyche and learn what lies at the source of John Rebus’ nightmares, alcoholism, and inability to sustain stable relationships, dating back to his time spent in the SAS (Special Air Service) before joining the police force. We learn of a relationship born during that period which haunts him—both psychologically and literally—to this day, and which both lies at the heart of the novel’s mystery and is the most powerfully-written portion of the novel.

There are a number of perplexing turns that Rankin takes in this novel, including having Rebus’ ex-wife engage in a love affair with the “failed poet” son of Rebus’ superior and nemesis on the police force, and a one-night drunken stand with a lonely widow during which Rebus nearly strangles the poor woman. The first was a completely unnecessary plot point adding nothing to the novel, while the second was clearly intended as a shocking glimpse into Rebus’ tortured soul, but somehow felt wrong.

Once the murderer’s identity is uncovered and the inevitable confrontation with Rebus occurs, I feel that the novel takes a turn for the worse. Rebus completely loses his focus on the next victim—who just happens to be his own daughter!—and stumbles at an exasperating pace through what turns out to be, quite literally, an extended guilt trip into hell. The epilogue was designed to tidy up a few loose ends, but was so unsatisfying that it left me grinding my teeth in frustration. What becomes of Rebus, apparently, was left for the next book. The prerrogative of the serial author, I guess.

Valyruh’s #CBR5 Review #6: The Hanging Garden by Ian Rankin

Another in the brilliant detective series authored by Rankin and featuring Scottish Inspector John Rebus, The Hanging Garden takes place in the city of Edinborough and is a roller-coaster of a ride through gang feuds, white slavery and prostitution, drugs and weapons trafficking, old Nazis, and even the frightening Japanese Yakuza (mafia).

Rebus is an old-school detective who frequently breaks the rules to right wrongs as he sees them, and then pays the price time and again. He is divorced after years of being more wedded to his job than his wife, he is an alcoholic fighting a daily battle to recover from his addiction, and he is a father who despairs of connecting to his daughter. But his moral compass is true and, as such, he is our hero. This time, he is trying to determine whether an old man was actually a vicious Nazi killer during WWI as people in high places attempt to bury the case. While pondering the question raised by the case of whether justice delayed is still justice, Rebus stumbles across a prostitution ring involving young Bosnian women blackmailed into sex slavery by a slick up-and-coming gangster who is challenging an imprisoned crime boss for control of Edinborough’s seamy underside, and perhaps beyond. When Rebus tries to protect one of the enslaved women, his daughter ends up in a coma–the victim of a hit-and-run–and Rebus fears it is retaliation for his involvement in the prostitution case. He is ineluctably drawn into the gang warfare.

The story escalates rapidly from there, as Rebus painfully pieces together the multi-sided plot of who is doing what to, or with, or against whom, with its repeated surprise twists and turns. In truth, the novel has its weak points: two apparently disparate cases—the Nazi and the prostitution ring—converge a little too conveniently; the turning point in solving the case hinges a little too easily on guesswork, even the friendship that evolves between Rebus’ ex-wife and current girlfriend at his daughter’s hospital bedside was a bit too contrived for my tastes. And yet, Rankin manages to put together an extremely complicated story with satisfying suspense, politically challenging themes, and a complex protagonist with whom we share the frustrations of bureaucracy, the pain of addiction and loneliness, and the lonely business of trying to do the right thing.