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By Rick Kleffel
John Rebus is back — at the bottom. As ‘Saints of the Shadow Bible’ begins, he’s a DS, working for his one-time DS, now DCI Siobhan Clarke. His nemesis from ‘Standing in Another Man’s Grave,’ Malcolm Fox, is back as well. What looks like a car crash might prove to be something else entirely. Simple events will prove to have complicated backgrounds. And readers should have no doubt that wherever you end up, one you start on a journey with John Rebus, getting there is all the fun you need.
As the mystery genre dissolves into serial killers and science experiments, Ian Rankin and his character, John Rebus, do things the old fashioned way. Both writer and character seek and tell utterly engaging stories about characters we give a damn about. Make no mistake; there are plenty of well-wrought mystery elements that make ‘Saints of the Shadow Bible’ a ripping, gripping yarn. But for this reader, the joy of just hanging out with Rebus and his gang was the primary draw.
Rebus has not aged well in his life, but as literature, he’s a hell of a find. Here’s a crabby old man who hits the mark every time. ‘Saints of the Shadow Bible’ is funny as hell, with lots of snappy dialogue and undersold poignancy. Rankin has a way of painting a vivid scene with very few words and infusing that scene with feeling and intimacy. Siobhan Clarke, his one-time underling, now his sort-of supervisor (the man can’t really be controlled), provides the right amount of reticent realism as opposed to the wild hairs of Rebus. And Malcolm Fox takes reticence to a whole new level as his time in the Complaints comes to an end. Soon to be unleashed as one of the cops he used to investigate, he’s none to easygoing.
Rebus and company begin the book investigating a car crash, but it’s not long before the political battle over Scotland’s independence come into the picture and from there, everything unravels into a series of enjoyably twisty knots. Past sins are revisited and present ones are scrutinized. For all the tension that he generates, Rankin also manages to give the book a distinctly literary feel. Between the life of crime, the life of a crime and the lives of his characters, the world he creates is complicated and vivid. Plus, it is fun as hell to read.
Rankin’s prose manages to feel detailed but read sparse. He has a talent for telling us just enough to make us feel we are really in that old house with his old friends, or out on the moors with a surly but tense felon. You can read this book and go on vacation with Rebus and Fox in the pub, half-sneering at one another as they discover they have more in common than either is willing to admit. It’s great to have rebus back at the bottom, even as ‘Saints of the Shadow Bible’ demonstrates that Ian Rankin has hit a new high — with more, we hope, to follow.