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'Rankin has set himself a major challenge with RESURRECTION MEN and he is equal to the task'.
Litttle Brown Hardcover, FEB.’03

The 13th full-length novel in the ‘Inspector John Rebus’ series RESURRECTION MEN by Scots author Ian Rankin – I am excluding his Rebus short stories A GOOD HANGING and his Rebus novella DEATH IS NOT THE END – is a fiendishly intricate intrigue where Rebus could either be a pawn or the queen. Obliged to go undercover at a reform center - for policemen who have blotted their escutcheons - as a seemingly ostracized’ bent copper’ Rebus is forced to play both ends against the middle in a war of nerves against other transgressive detectives/ defectives, some of them likely to be corrupt, and ‘on the take’, in actuality.

Rebus’s surname fails adequately to describe the whisky-drenched, tobacco-stained middle-aged Detective Inspector, for he is neither an enigma nor a puzzle, that is a ‘rebus’. He is an addictive personality to whom millions of readers have become addicted. Shabby and dishevelled, when not unkempt, Rebus mainlines his professional duties like the pure White Lady heroin. He remains impervious to fashion or to trendiness.

Unable to let go once the scent of crime enters his no doubt un-barbered nostrils – he is now at that age when hair grows wildly everywhere except on top of his unruly head - this monomaniacal hopelessly unfit bloodhound nonetheless is a role-model for younger ‘polis’, especially the female ones. I cannot decipher his lasting appeal to the opposite sex. Most Mums would say to their kids "Tha’s no a verra naice manny , glom onto his sloppy claes and slapdash hygiene, laddie! You’ll end up that way if you dinna heed yer Mummy!"

The first Inspector Rebus book KNOTS AND CROSSES was published in 1987 when Rankin was not yet 30 years old. Now at age 42 Rankin has willfully raised the sights of his writing by several notches. His novels are fat and ambitious, dealing with such contemporary issues as rampant Scots Nationalism and Scots "Independence" (from London). Yet his protagonist, unlike his Motherland, always fails, and no doubt always will fail, to grow up into a proud self-sufficient Scotsman weaned from boozers and ciggies. And women: Robert Knox’s, or was it John Wesley’s? ‘The Awful Regimen Of’.
A born bachelor - with every seedy habit thereof - Rebus couldn’t function without his ever-present crutches: TheNicotine and The 14 Year-Old Malted Barley. Indeed his appeal rests foursquare upon his failings, of which he is only dimly aware. Yet his highly alert and analytical mind remains always on the job. Divorced and a permanent pessimist he does not shun female companionship. He just does not have the time for real ‘love’ or for commitment.

Rankin clearly loves Edinburgh, The Scots Capital, no less than does Rebus .He brings the city to tangible life on every page and does well introducing the reader to grotty old Glasgow,too. Not that he ever conceals the shabby, sordid desperation of every modern British city, wherein those anxious shadowy low-lives eke out their sorry lots. Wherein those arrogant brutal high-rollers control vice’s seven deadly sins. Which brings us up against Rebus’s permanent nemesis gang-lord ‘Big Ger’, Morris Gerald Cafferty. As usual the centrifuge of big-time crime.

Sequestered deliberately at Tuliallan Castle, The Scottish Police College, Rebus infiltrates a quintet of bad-boy coppers - ‘The Wild Bunch", drinking buddies, and truly devious suspects all, in a big drug-bust rip-off. Vulnerable to being exposed as an imposter Rebus has to negotiate a high-wire trip wire with psychological deftness and ethical finesse- qualities that normally have largely eluded this hard-charging, soft-spoken detective in the past.

Meantime his acolyte CID Detective-Sergeant Siobhan Clarke is investigating the brutal murder of a highly dubious art-gallery owner. These various plot strands thicken, climb, and intertwine like eager ivy on an ageing brick wall.

An expert at tying the reader into knots only to pull out the rug – excuse my mixed metaphors – abruptly out from under, Rankin has set himself a major challenge with RESURRECTION MEN and he is equal to the task. It is a book that requires patience as such a fettlesome throng of characters demand attention throughout. Yet erstwhile readers of this exceptional crime series are fully accustomed to the labyrinthine twist-ridden narratives which Rankin is bringing to perfection after fifteen years.

© Alex Grant 2003

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