The hot summer didn’t seem to last long and autumn crept in pretty stealthily; still, here is something to cheer you up as the evenings get chillier – the latest John Rebus novel. Retiring Edinburgh’s most irascible and brilliant detective wasn’t quite as drastic as throwing him off the Reichenbach Falls, but it was a blow to his legion of fans. So, cheers went up as Rankin took the opportunity to bring Rebus back. In a House of Lies is the fourth outing for the former detective as yet again he proves he will “not go gently into that good night”. After all, what else would Rebus be doing, gardening? DCI Sutherland is about to find out that letting Rebus in on a murder enquiry is… well, give him an inch and he’ll take a mile. Rebus has information that can really kick start the investigation into a skeleton found in the woods, but he also has a few secrets of his own he wants to protect. During Rebus’s short break from the page, Rankin created another character who has become an integral part of the Edinburgh police story, Malcolm Fox, then with complaints now with major crimes. Fox is the total opposite of Rebus, when the two met met they didn’t like each other but gradually things have moved on, a grudging respect has developed. Now their paths cross regularly on investigations. Of course, Rebus’s strongest link to the force is Inspector Siobhan Clarke, his former protégé, and not to disappoint she is deep in this case too. The appearance of Gerald ‘big Ger’ Cafferty is always a bonus, Rebus just can’t keep away from the old gangster. An apparently straightforward, if mysterious, cold case gets more intriguing as long buried secrets start resurfacing. Stuff comes to light that was missed at the time, or was it? Is this a case of corruption or incompetence?

Four eleven-year-old boys are larking around in the woods when Ginger pushes Jimmy down a slope into a gully. The other boys are laughing, Ginger pleading his innocence, but as Jimmy dusts himself off he sees a rusted old car hidden by the bushes. There’s a skeleton in the back of the rusty old VW. Haj Atwal, crime scene manager, identifies it as male, blunt force trauma to the head, but most creepily, the feet are handcuffed (are they police issue handcuffs?). Siobhan Clarke is seconded to the Major Investigation Team looking into the original enquiry, under DCI Graham Sutherland, initially there are no leads to go on.

Before they can even figure out who the dead man is, Rebus calls Siobhan asking if the car is a Polo. He knows who it is but before Siobhan can get the information out of him he says he’s on the way to their Leith HQ. Sutherland lets him sit in, his insight into the original case could be really useful. Specially as he has named the probable victim, Stuart Bloom, private investigator. The car and the body were dumped in wooded land at Poretoun belonging to Jackie Ness, film producer (dubious productions). Ness was also the last man to see Bloom alive. He was working for Ness looking into a business rival Sir Anthony Brand when he went missing. Rebus talks to Bill Rawlston, who headed up the original enquiry, it’s pretty obvious the case was badly handled. Rawlston had the disappearance pegged as a lovers tiff or a gay sexual encounter that went wrong. Bloom was homosexual and his lover, Derek, was the son of a Glasgow cop with a bad reputation, Alex Shankley. The old case files are with the Counter Complaints Unit (formerly ACU). The case was botched from the start and the family have filed several complaints over the years about it, but none of them have been upheld. Bottom line the original investigating team got nowhere, they will all need to be interviewed. Ness and his business rival Brand get wind of the discovery. Before the identity is confirmed Glenn Hazard, PR for Sir Anthony Brand, bends Sutherland’s ear. It’s all about image, he wants to warn Sutherland off unnecessarily bringing his boss into this matter. Brand now owns Poretoun woods, where the body was found. There are development plans that could be affected by this. Malcolm Fox joins the team, Siobhan is receiving anonymous phone calls from a phone box on Canongate and Rebus is taking a look into the conviction of Ellis Meikle for the murder of his girlfriend Kristen. Everyone has a secret; Rebus, the police officers who messed up the original enquiry, both the main suspects, and even those on the periphery of the enquiry.

Rankin uses Rebus sparingly, never stretching the credibility of his involvement but putting him at the heart of some of the pivotal moments in the case (Rebus has his own way of doing things but he gets results). It’s nice to see the old favourites Fox, Clarke and Morris Gerald Cafferty in the mix. Rebus and Cafferty, gangster, pimp, drug pusher, people trafficking, extortionist etc., still spark off each other. Their relationship gives Rebus that slightly dodgy image that sometimes help when you want to solve a murder.

In a House of Lies is a polished thriller that keeps you guessing to the end. There are a couple of nice twists. The strands of the story coalesce perfectly as secrets out: dodgy land deals, corruption, and drugs. The Edinburgh setting and the details of Police Scotland, highlighting the changes over the years since the murder, are pitch perfect. Rebus has grown older, slower, he’s less easy to rile, a bit more contemplative but he is still a master manipulator of both people and events.

A very satisfying mystery, it looks like Rebus is not done yet. Ian Rankin and Rona Munro have also just published a Rebus play (currently staged in Birmingham), which is also available from Orion.

Paul Burke 4/4

In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin
Orion 9781409176886 hbk Oct 2018