John Rebus is an obsessed man, obsessed with two serial killers and a recent murder investigation. He is also a hunted man, hunted by media and investigated by his own department for being guilty of miscarriage of justice in an old case. Rebus has to use all his wits to solve these cases which turn out to be interconnected.
I have barely written a word in last one month as I have been devouring Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series. I have just finished 8th novel, Black and Blue which by far is most expansive, both in terms of plot and action. It’s the best so far and hence I am immediately writing about it. More about the previous books of the series later.
This is a difficult book to review and I am sure at the end of it I still will not have done justice to the book. In Black and Blue, Rankin deals with multiple issues – oil business, its impact on environment, underworld’s pouncing on these newly rich clientele from oil industry that spawns a new market for pubs, drugs, porn and prostitution and resultant corruption. Rankin has woven four… no, actually five plots together and they are really intricate. It’s a difficult stunt to pull off and I think Rankin has succeeded spectacularly.
Rebus is investigating murder of Allan Mitchison, an oil worker from Aberdeen. The inquiry sets Rebus on trail of a Glasgow don with connections to drugs.
Rebus is also under inquiry in an old case for doctoring evidence against Lenny Spaven. Rebus’s then mentor Lawson Geddes had a personal score to settle against Spaven and Rebus had suspected even then that Spaven was set up.
DI Gill Templer is on a drug case, again pointing towards Glasgow. The snitch who gave information of a big deal to Templer dies in suspicious circumstances. As it happens, he was also friend of Lenny Spaven and Rebus had interrogated him in the past. This puts another question mark on Rebus’s motives.
Then there is three decade old unsolved “Bible John” case. Bible John was a serial killer who has eluded clutches of the law and might still be out there somewhere.
And now an impersonator has arrived, nicknamed “Johnny Bible” who has killed three women so far.
Rebus is at his cynical best, killing himself slowly with booze and cigarettes. Fighting a lone battle to defend himself, he is ready to bend a few rules as usual ruffling more than a few feathers. With his trademark single mindedness he is obsessed with Bible John and Johnny Bible, studying both cases in his spare time. Allan Mitchison’s murder takes him to Glasgow, Aberdeen and Shetland, with its extreme weather and gritty landscape.
The plots are interwoven and keep crisscrossing each other. The book is full of characters and if you have not read the series chronologically, then you may sometimes get lost as too much is happening too fast and characters from previous books keep popping up. By the end of the book, Rebus’s old friend Jack Morton helps him to get on the “wagon” – staying away from drinks and smoke.
This is one hell of a book and scores on many counts – plot, wry humour, protagonist for whom you may take instant dislike and yet end up hooting for him, Scotland for its dark underbelly and its temperamental climate with unpredictable mood swings. Black and Blue won Crime Writer Association’s top award, The Gold Dagger and justifiably so in my opinion.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your time.
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My other John Rebus reviews –