Rankin, Ian. Black and Blue.

NY: St. Martin, 1997.

Back in the late ‘60s, a serial killer had the Scottish police losing sleep and women all over Scotland looking over their shoulders. Because of his habit of leaving Bible verses with his victims, the newspapers dubbed him “Bible John.” And then he disappeared and the murders are still unsolved. (All this is true, actually.)

Now it’s thirty years later and a copycat killer (“Johnny Bible”) has got Scotland in an uproar again. But DI John Rebus of the Edinburgh CID has problems closer to home. When he was a young DC, his mentor and friend DCI Lawson Geddes became obsessed with nailing a man named Spaven for murder. Eventually, they found a bag of the victim’s effects in Spaven’s possession — found without a warrant, that is — and he was tried and sent to prison for life, still loudly protesting his innocence. Rebus had lied to help cover up the illegal search but he’s never been quite sure whether Geddes actually planted the evidence or not. Now Spaven is writing books from his cell and giving interviews claiming he was railroaded. And the retired Geddes has committed suicide. As one of those who testified against Spaven, Rebus is on the hot seat of an internal investigation pending the probable re-opening of the case. But there’s also the murder of a guy off the North Sea oil platforms that he has to deal with.

Rebus has never been one for playing by the rules if they’re likely to get in his way. Told to keep his hands off the Spaven case, he naturally jumps in with both feet. And his rather sleazy old friend and partner from earlier in his career, DI Jack Morton, who has now cleaned himself up, is assigned by the head of the inquiry to keep a close eye on Rebus, who has to accept it or else be suspended. One thing leads to another, and pretty soon Rebus is having dealings with a crime lord in Glasgow, getting up the noses of his fellow cops in Aberdeen, and riding helicopters out to the Shetland Islands, all of it with Jack looking anxiously over his shoulder. In fact, the two of them rack more miles in this book than in all the rest of the series put together.

It took a volume or two for this series to find itself, but Rankin has had everything firmly in control for awhile now. In fact, the complex multiple plot threads (I count at least six subplots) and the in-depth characterizations make this probably the best of the series so far. The reviewers have taken to calling the series “Scottish Noir,” but except for Rebus getting himself beat up by the bad guys a couple times in every book, I think that might be overstating it. He also tends to drink himself into a stupor, but given his personality and the sense of responsibility he feels (for practically everything), the reader should have no difficulty understanding why. This is really good stuff.


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