Orion | 2016 (3 November) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book
Rather be the Devil is the 21st Inspector Rebus novel and, I’m ashamed to admit, it’s the first one I’ve read for such a long time. I gave up reading crime fiction for one reason or another for about fifteen years but, now that I’m firmly back in the saddle, I can recover that joy I felt all those years ago when I would pounce on the latest Rebus as soon as it hit the shelves. It is indeed a rediscovery of riches because I adored Rather be the Devil. It’s quite likely that I would have got more from it if I had read the middle novels that I’ve missed – old history rears its head in these pages – but, nevertheless, I got so much from it, not least the desire to go back and catch up with what Inspector Rebus has been up to since I saw him last.
John Rebus is an Inspector no longer. He is retired, spending time in his flat going over old notes from unsolved cases, keeping up with the news thanks to former colleague DI Siobhan Clarke. One evening, while dining out at the Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh, he recalls that it was in this hotel forty years ago that a famous unsolved murder took place. Maria Turquand was strangled in Room 316 on the night that a famous rock star and his entourage were staying at the hotel in neighbouring rooms. Rebus is looking for a distraction and this is perfect. Isn’t it about time justice was done for Maria?
But it’s not long before Rebus finds himself caught up in another case. Local gangster Darryl Christie has been viciously beaten up outside his house, setting off a sequence of increasingly brutal and puzzling events. DI Malcolm Fox is recalled to work with Clarke on the case and Rebus makes sure that he’s never far away himself. After all, nobody knows the city’s gangsters like John Rebus. They need him.
Ian Rankin is a fantastic writer. His style is a joy to read, mixing up the moods, combining grit with wit, and brilliantly bringing to life a wonderful cast of characters, whether police officers, witnesses, victims, criminals or bystanders. Each is distinct, none is wholly good and none wholly bad – although a few come close. Rather be the Devil is deceptively easy to read due to Rankin’s genius for storytelling but the further you read the more apparant it becomes that this is an immensely clever and complex crime novel.
I last met John Rebus when he was in his prime. Now, he’s undoubtedly feeling his age, even his own mortality, and he knows he must focus on using his greatest asset – his brain – rather than brawn. Several of the city’s criminals are his contemporaries. A lot of memories are shared. It’s interesting to watch Rebus adapt to civilian life when it’s clear to everyone that he’s a policeman and detective to the core. There are other retired detectives in this novel. Rebus does not want to be like them. In some ways, though, he is well placed to hunt out the truth in a case – not entirely a detective, not entirely a civilian. Perfectly positioned to bend the rules. And it is so much fun to watch him do it.
I loved the relationships between Rebus, Clarke and Fox. It’s clear that I’ve missed out on much by not having read recent novels and I suspect that readers who have had the pleasure will get more from these sections. Nevertheless, I really liked them and there is nothing here to prevent a reader new to the series from enjoying a fine novel, brilliantly written, wonderfully complex, that stands on its own very well. I’m not going to miss a single one in the future and I’m looking forward to catching up with the books I’ve missed.