Rankin, Ian. Flashmarket Alley.

NY: Little, Brown, 2004.

Like most police procedural mystery novels that are written as part of a series, this fifteenth story about DI John Rebus of Edinburgh combines a well-written and complicated multi-thread plot about murder with an investigation of current problems and issues — specifically, this time, illegal immigrants and people-smuggling in Scotland.

The author isn’t obtrusive about it, but he makes sure the reader understands how unpleasant the situation has become, not only in the UK but in Europe generally.

The story starts almost tongue-in-cheek, with the discovery of two skeletons under the cement basement floor of an Edinburgh pub undergoing renovation. One turns out to be an old medical school exhibit that was stolen by students years before, while the other is a more modern infant’s skeleton made of plastic. There’s no murder to be solved here, but there are still puzzling questions Rebus wants answers to.

Then a real murder takes place, a dark-skinned man stabbed to death in one of the city’s grubbier housing projects, and even some of the local cops aren’t inclined to do much about it. Racism and nationalist bigotry are rife in Edinburgh, but Rebus is one-quarter Polish himself, and has an innate dislike of exclusivist nativism, and he pushes the investigation. And since he’s been moved to a new station and not even given a desk (a not-so-gentle hint by his superiors that it’s time for him to retire), he’s happy to spend most of his time out on the streets, pursuing the answers.

Meanwhile, there’s DS Siobhan Clarke, an increasingly hard case with good detective instincts who tries to look out for Rebus even while he’s trying to look out for her. She’s approached by the parents of a girl who was raped and shortly afterward committed suicide. Siobhan had worked the case and the perp went to prison for five years (sentences for such things are ridiculously light in the UK), but now he’s out and back in the old neighborhood — and their younger daughter has gone missing. Will Siobhan look into the disappearance, even though the girl is eighteen and an adult? The three plots gradually merge, as you knew they would, becoming related aspects of the same sprawling conspiracy, and the reader is unlikely to figure out whodunit in advance of the climax. Another high-quality book from Britain’s current best-selling mystery writer.


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