November 2, 10.00am
The Naming of the Dead feels like a watershed for Ian Rankin and his irascible, anti-establishment Edinburgh detective John Rebus.
In almost 20 years of this series, since the publication of Knots and Crosses, which is to be re-released in an anniversary collector's edition next year, Rebus has been dominant and almost omnipresent. Villains, partners, lovers friends and family have come and gone, all over-shadowed by Rebus' black moods and dark humour, none able to flourish and grow with so little limelight.
The influence of "Shiv" has grown steadily over those years, in much the same way that the long-suffering Lewis did with his mentor Inspector Morse. At first she was useful as Rebus' eyes in the incomprehensible world of the computer and the internet. Later as an increasingly confident and sharp detective until gradually she became friend, confidant almost a sister/mother figure as the only stablising influence in Rebus' life beyond his work.
But here she makes a breakthrough. In previous novels Siobhan's origins, interests and character have been explored in a cursory fashion, usually as a prop to Rebus or in relation to her performance and behaviour as an officer. We know she is English, that she supports Hibernian, that she loves cats and that she is constantly torn between playing by the book and advancing her bright career and following Rebus into the grey area of law and procedure where he gets so many of his results.
In this novel, Siobhan is thrust right out on to the centre of the stage by Rankin. As her parents arrive to take part in the G8 and other protests in Edinburgh in early July 2005 we are given an inisght into her upbringing and her motivation for becoming a police officer and an ambitious one at that. Later, when her mother is hurt during a demonstration she shows a vengeful side that takes her ever closer to the fine line between legal forms of police work and those that Rebus practices.
Meanwhile, as if Rankin is tipping his hat formally to a changing order in the book, Clarke is placed in charge of Rebus (despite his holding higher rank) in the investigation of a suspected series of murders that threatens to disturb the appearance of order and well-being orchestrated by Scotland's law enforcement authorities as the world's most powerful men prepare to debate the world's most important issues at Gleneagles.
Unsurprisingly, Rebus is being kept at a long arm's length from the G8 circus, confined to barracks where he can do no harm while everyone else goes out to play. Equally unsurprisingly he is determined to join the fray and show his two fingers to his superiors at the same time. The discovery of clothing belonging to a murder victim at a local tourist spot close to Gleneagles is all the invitation he needs to thrust his size 11s into the door, even if senior officers insist it is under the command of Siobhan.
What unfolds is an ever-widening mystery linked to the death of a young and popular ministerial aide, an ambitious local councillor, the global arms trade and the somewhat less global concerns of Rebus nemesis Big Ger Cafferty, the only other character in the series big enough to command serial attention.
Rankin handles a broad, sprawling plot with great certainty and control, seamlessly marrying the small time world of Edinburgh crime with unfolding global events and characters - in one very sweet move, Rebus and Siobhan inadvertantly cause George W Bush's infamous bicycling accident.
The psychology too is beautifully described. From Rebus' mournful reflections on his own mortality to Siobhan's descent into rage.
The Naming of the Dead is the best Rebus since The Falls, and should confirm the master Rankin his place on the throne of British crime fiction.