Inspector John Rebus has outdone even his own previous record for behaving badly --- he threw a cup of tea at DCS Gill Templer and got himself sent back to the police academy for some remedial lessons in playing well with others. Those who know Rebus well from previous books about him by Ian Rankin (this is the 14th, plus a novella) will be skeptical that this old Scottish dog can take on any new tricks --- and those who haven't yet had the pleasure are well advised to make his acquaintance very soon.
The Resurrection Men, as they are collectively called, is a group that, like Rebus, is being given one last chance to behave, or be tossed out of their various precincts. That's on the surface. Beneath the surface, it's not so simple. There are, as you might expect, shades within shades of bad cop behavior. Some difficult cops are worse than others --- that's the real problem Rebus takes on in this complexly plotted novel.
There are really three stories here, two of them are about crime (one past, one present) and the other is the ongoing, absorbing tale of Rebus's personal life, which has taken a new turn since the book just previous, THE FALLS. Our Scots Detective Inspector has, no matter how improbably, entered a relationship with an interesting woman of his own age named Jean Burchill. Jean works as a curator in a museum in Edinburgh; she can hold her own and doesn't take any guff off anybody, including John Rebus. His sudden remand to the police academy, with its outside-Edinburgh location, together with his having to maintain a certain amount of secrecy, soon puts the new relationship at risk. Dealing with this personal problem, Rebus gains new depth to his personality. It's painful. There's nothing easy about these things, ever, especially for Rebus.
The remedial instructor at the academy assigns the group of Resurrection Men a cold case, ostensibly as an exercise to teach them to work as a team. Each of the six men has had difficulty with teamwork in the past --- but three of them, as Rebus gets to know them better, appear to have some prior connection they're keeping mum about. The cold case assignment deals with an unprosecuted murder, some years earlier, of Rico Lomax, a thoroughly bad sort of man who took others down with him. It's a case in which Rebus was more involved than he wants to admit and one he does not like to remember. As their investigation deepens, Rebus begins to wonder if someone at Headquarters has set him up, if they may not be using this old case as a means to drive him off the police force once and for all.
Meanwhile, back at the home precinct, DS Siobhan Clarke continues to work on the case of Edward Marber, a murdered art dealer; she was partnered with a new recruit, DC Hynds, when Rebus was shipped off to Tulliallan (the academy). Some years his junior, Siobhan is perhaps too much like Rebus in personality for her own good. He has trouble letting go of the Marber case and she is more than willing to consult him behind the scenes, thus keeping him involved. As the Marber investigation goes broader and deeper, some of the same personalities who were involved in the old Lomax case begin to surface as players in the new case as well. Lines begin to cross and the Resurrection Men begin to behave very badly indeed.
One does not read a Rebus novel solely for the plot, though in this book there is plot enough and more besides. Rather, one reads Ian Rankin for the totality of the experience, which is as much sensual as it is intellectual. Rankin gives us all of Edinburgh, of today's Scotland, in his novels -- much more so than any other novelist working at present. We get the sounds, the smells, the taste, the feel of the weather, of the nights, of the very air on the skin. With it all, we too have the enormous privilege of getting to know John Rebus. I have no words to adequately describe this remarkable character --- Rebus is a man you must know for yourself.
Reviewed by Ava Dianne Day on January 23, 2011