Monday, November 18, 2019

Rebus: Long Shadows - Ian Rankin & Rona Munro

I began 2019 hoping to fill in the gaps of a few crime series that I only started reading when the series were already a few books old. Among those was Ian Rankin’s John Rebus books, one of my favorite series of them all. As a result, the last two Rebus books I’ve read are 1987’s Knots and Crosses, which was the very first Rebus book, and 2019’s Rebus: Long Shadows, a brand new stage play featuring Rebus. In the first, Rebus was introduced as a 41-year-old cop; in the play, he is a retired cop in such poor physical condition that stairs are a challenge and he is as likely to fly as engage a suspect in a foot-chase. The good news is that Rebus is still Rebus; the bad news is that Rebus has a past that is catching up with him.

John Rebus allows his past to haunt him. He doesn’t spend any time thinking about his successes, all those bad guys he and his fellow cops have taken off the streets in the last three decades. Instead, he thinks about the ones who got away – and the young women they raped and murdered. He sees these women in his dreams, and he has long conversations with them in his head. Rebus knows, too, that time is running out for him. If he is ever to put away his longtime nemesis “Big Ger” Cafferty, a crime boss he’s been chasing for twenty-five years, he is going to have to do it soon. The irony is that, of all the people in the world, “Big Ger” is perhaps the one who understands John Rebus best; their shared past forever binds them. They may not  be friends, but they are much more than just enemies on different sides of the law. 

Ian Rankin and Rona Munro
And then one night, Rebus comes across a young woman on the stairs waiting for one of his apartment neighbors to come home. He doesn’t know her, but he remembers her mother, the victim of one of those unsolved murder cases that he thinks about so often. Determined to finally find the woman’s killer, Rebus begins to ask questions, questions that will lead to yet another confrontation with “Big Ger,” a conversation with the power to ruin the career of the only real friend he still has, DI Siobham Clarke. 

In his introduction to Rebus: Long Shadows, Ian Rankin tells us that the play is set in “a parallel world that is almost identical,” one in which Rankin and co-author Rona Munro “have played with elements of Rebus’s history – and Cafferty’s – to make for an engrossing two hours of theatre.” The differences, whatever they may be, are subtle enough that most readers are unlikely to be troubled by them, if they notice them at all. 

Bottom Line: Rebus: Long Shadows works surprisingly well and manages to add another complex chapter to the John Rebus story within the concise parameters of a stage play. In the play, Rebus reveals just what a complicated and driven man he is today, and that he is still capable of out-maneuvering those who think they finally have him where they want him. This is a worthy addition to the John Rebus series and should be read as such. As Rankin says, “In Edinburgh, that most special of cities, Rebus knows the dead don’t always rest quietly, while the living remain troubled and – just occasionally – deadly dangerous.” Unemployed or not, John Rebus is far from done.

Scene from the Play in which Rebus is being "haunted" by Victims of Two Unsolved Murder Cases


  1. Replies
    1. If you enjoy gritty crime fiction, John Rebus is your man.

  2. This is a series that I can never decide whether to try or not. Partly because I'm honestly not a big fan of very gritty urban crime books which I think this is? But also I really do have enough series on the go without adding more! On the other hand as I think I've mentioned before, I do actually own a few that are quite far into the series - bought cheaply as a job lot of about 10 books by him from a book catalogue. I had no idea what I was buying and rather assumed it was books 1 - 10 of Rebus, which it was not: it's a few Rebus and something else. A lesson in checking before you buy...

    1. Very gritty crime fiction, Cath. Edinburg is almost another character in the books, a very dark version of Edinburg, of course.

      I know what you mean about series and not adding anymore to the list of those that I'm trying to catch up on. I figure it's going to take me another two or three years to catch up with the ones I'm working on now, so maybe then I'll be looking for something new.

      Wow...what a strange purchase you made. That must have been disappointing. I turned up a three-novel Rebus collection (books four,five, and six in the series) that I had forgotten I had. I picked it up in a used-book bookstore two or three years ago and put it aside. It's a great find since I'm going to be reading book three soon and will have 4-6 handy for when I'm ready for them.

      I really love crime fiction set in Scotland's big cities for some reason, and I suppose that's why I took to Rankin from the get-go.

  3. I haven't read a Rebus books in at least ten years. I don't want to go back and catch up (too many books), but I am interested in this one.

    1. This one was great fun, Jenclair, because it is so obviously written for the stage and is very visual as well as being very conversational. There are lots of pictures of the stage set and a good interview of the authors - oh, and a nice introduction written by Rankin.

      It is really beautifully done and makes me wish I could see the actual play someday. I know that it opened in Birmingham, England, but I don't know if it went to other cities after that.