A Question of Blood (Ian Rankin’s 14th John Rebus novel) is a complicated police procedural told in seven parts, one part for each day it takes Rebus and Siobhan Clarke to close the books on the Edinburgh school shooting that claims the lives of two students. The case does not appear to be a difficult one because one of the three students in the room at the time of the murders has survived to tell what he saw and the alleged murderer, an outsider, has killed himself at the scene. For Rebus and his Edinburgh police colleagues it is a question of why, not who.
John Rebus, always the outsider even among his peers, is determined to answer that question and soon finds himself in conflict not only with certain of his fellow officers but with two Army investigators that seem determined to cause him as much personal grief as possible. For a loner, though, Rebus does have one or two loyal friends willing to cover his back when he needs it most. One of those friends is in charge of the school shooting investigation and is willing to use Rebus in an “unofficial” capacity even though, midway through the investigation, Rebus has been suspended by his superiors. The other is Siobhan Clarke, the young policewoman for whom Rebus has formed a rather unlikely attachment.
It is precisely this emotional attachment to Siobhan that gets Rebus into so much trouble. He is so determined to stop the career criminal that has been threatening her that one night he is seen leaving the man’s home at precisely the wrong moment. As a result of this connection to the stalker, if Rebus is to figure out the why of the school murders, he is going to have to avoid the phone calls and visits of the investigators whose job it is to determine whether or not he is guilty of violent criminal activity.
A Question of Blood, at its heart, is a book about relationships, families, loners and friends. John Rebus is not close to anyone in his family and can count his friends on one hand. In his own way, he probably loves Siobhan Clarke but there is no way he ever could, or would, express his feelings to her. Some of his friends are much like Rebus; they spend too much time in pubs or sitting alone at home drinking themselves toward the next hangover – and they rather enjoy the lifestyle.
Rankin’s Edinburgh is the perfect city for loners. It is a dark, wet and rowdy place, and its streets are populated by teenage thugs that respect no one unwilling to mix it up with them. Rebus can only stomach what he sees because of his deep sense of outrage about what is happening to his city and those around him. Police work is all he has left and, even though he does as much as he can to protect the innocents of Edinburgh, he senses that his is a losing battle. He accepts his fate, however, and is a little unnerved by the emotions he finds himself feeling and expressing at the end of day seven.
A Question of Blood is a satisfying police procedural with an extra twist or two but John Rebus fans will enjoy it most because of the opportunity it gives them to spend some time with their old friend. For such a loner, John Rebus is an easy guy to like.
Rated at: 4.0