Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Tooth and Nail - Ian Rankin

Tooth and Nail is the third installment of Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series, and this one finds Rebus, by special request, assisting in the search for a London serial killer. Rebus is rather shocked to learn that anyone in London would ever consider him to be an expert on serial killers, but despite his protests to the contrary, he is soon enough on a train headed to London. As his boss puts it, if Rebus is not the expert they think he is, “he will be in good company” there.

A serial killer the London police and press have dubbed the “Wolfman” because of the peculiar  way he mutilates the dead bodies of his victims continues to keep himself at least one or two steps ahead of the police. It’s almost like he knows what the cops are going to do before they do it – and the bodies are beginning to turn up at an ever-increasing rate. In desperation, someone has decided to try a little out-of-the-box thinking by importing Scotsman John Rebus. Now, what could possibly go wrong?

For starters, the London cops already assigned to the case resent Rebus’s very presence – not the least because he’s from Scotland – and they make sure that he knows that they consider everything about Scotland to be second-rate when compared to London. It doesn’t help that Rebus feels exactly the opposite, or that he is not the kind of team-player the locals were hoping he would be. By nature, John Rebus is not a man who plays well with others; he is a loner who, as it was put in Knots and Crosses, “resents having to play the part of a normal human animal.” He does his  best investigatory work on his own, not as part of a team, and it soon seems likely that he will be sent packing back to Scotland long before the Wolfman is identified.

Ian Rankin
Ian Rankin writes first-rate mysteries, and this one is no exception. The struggle to identify the novel’s serial killer is as intriguing as the killer’s identity is surprising. Along the way, Rankin explores this whole psychology of serial killers business and the efforts of the professional profilers who help the police identify and catch them. (The author’s “Acknowledgments” section includes several books with titles such as Hunting Humans and Psychology and Crime that I think would interest mystery fans.)

 But this is a series novel, and the real fun for fans of any series comes from the evolution of the main character and the changing relationships he has with friends, family, and colleagues. Rebus is three or four years older now than he was in his introductory novel Knots and Crosses, he’s been divorced for a while, and his daughter is no longer the eleven-year-old child she was when readers first met her. As it turns out, Sammy is now a teen who does not always make the best choices when it comes to choosing boyfriends – and she lives in London with Rebus’s ex-wife. His secondment to London gives Rebus the opportunity to spend some much-needed time with his daughter, but he has to deal with his ex-wife in the process, and in Rebus’s case, that’s never a good thing.

Bottom Line: Tooth and Nail is a fine addition to the Inspector Rebus series, one that Rebus fans should not miss. It combines a first-class mystery with a further exploration and extension of the Rebus character that is certain to please.


  1. I'm still dithering about whether or not to start reading this series. I can see how excellent it is and various bloggers whose opinions I trust love them but, as I think I may have said to you before, I'm not a huge fan of really gritty crime stories. I'm equally not really a 'cosy' fan either, I should add, my tastes are somewhere in the middle, edging towards gritty. Hmm. I think it's case of, 'I used to be indecisive but now I'm not so sure...'

  2. Being caught in the middle is kind of awkward, isn't it? :-)

    The Rebus series is not nearly as gritty as some I've read, but it can get aa little brutal at times, I admit. I find this series interesting because Rankin started it at the point when his central character was already around 40 years old and unhappy about his state in life. Rankin ages Rebus pretty much in real time, so he only allowed himself 25 years or so to write novels about Rebus in which the guy is still physically able enough to be believable.

    I'm sure 30 years ago Rankin didn't really expect to be writing Rebus novels in 2020, so he didn't think that would be a hindrance at all. Lucky he has to figure out what to do with Rebus - much like Louise Penny has to figure out what to do with Gamache.

  3. It is always the characters that keep me reading in a series. John Rebus sounds like a character I'd like. :)

  4. Absolutely, Lark. I don't enjoy the standalones nearly as much as I do the series novels where you can really get into the characters for a longterm visit with them.