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.