Book Review: Rather be the Devil

John Rebus is back in Rather be the Devil along with several characters from earlier novels, including DI Siobhan Clarke, and former Complaints Department chief DI Malcolm Fox.

Fox has been posted to the prestigious Scottish Crime Campus known as Gartcosh, 40 hectic miles, from Edinburgh, which also houses HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs Service).

Fox is in Major Crimes (murders, robberies) but finds himself seconded to Organised Crime and Terrorism (which is higher in the pecking order) and to HMRC, which is deeply interested in money laundering. They need an experienced Edinburgh detective to observe as Siobhan Clarke investigates a brutal assault on an Edinburgh crime boss, Darryl Christie. Supposedly Christie is the successor to another frequent inhabitant of Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh: Gerald (‘Big Ger’) Cafferty, formerly Edinburgh’s leading gangster.

I suspect Rankin loves his creation as much as Dickens loved Fagin or Uriah Heap. Cafferty claims to be a semi-retired respectable businessman, which is like the Godfather claiming to be just an olive oil trader. No matter, Rankin will not allow Cafferty to retire any more than he will allow his now retired Inspector Rebus to sit at home watching the ‘tele’.

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Rebus has picked out a long dead unsolved murder case in which a banker’s beautiful wife, Maria Torquand, notorious for her many love affairs, was strangled in the Caledonian Hotel in 1978. Her husband might have done it but had an unimpeachable alibi supplied by his employer, the long dead Sir Magnus Brough of Brough’s Bank. So there are two cases going on at once: Rebus on the old Torquand case, Siobhan and Malcolm on the current assault on crime boss Christie – in which Big Ger Cafferty is the prime suspect.

Rebus tracks down a retired detective, Chatham, who had reviewed the Torquand case eight years earlier, now a doorman at one of Christie’s nightclubs. That very day Chatham i s murdered. Was it because Rebus had revived that old enquiry? Malcolm discovers Christie was involved with Sir Magnus Brough’s grandson, Anthony. Brough’s Bank was sold off years earlier but Anthony Brough could well be money laundering on a world-wide scale through 500 shell companies registered to a one room flat above a Christie nightclub. Malcolm and Rebus long to talk to him but he has inconveniently disappeared.

Early on Rebus chats up Big Ger but what does he mean by his cryptic closing remark: “Look for the Russian. You’ll thank me later?” Rankin’s plots are always complex but this is a lulu. One can only admire the way he effortlessly jumps the narrative to the differing viewpoints of the leading characters without missing a beat. The 21st Rebus story is quite a ride.

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