Sunday, December 06, 2020

A Song for the Dark Times - Ian Rankin

With the exception of a five-year break between Exit Music and Standing in Another Man’s Grave (and the four-year break between the first two books), Ian Rankin has published a new John Rebus novel every year or so since 1987. There are now twenty-three Inspector Rebus novels, and Rankin has pretty much aged Rebus in real-time as he adds to the series. If I recall correctly, Rebus is already 41 years old at the beginning of the first novel in the series, so he should be in his mid-sixties now. And it figures that he is now a retired Scottish cop who still thinks of himself as a cop first…and not much else second. But a man suffering from a worsening case of COPD? I don’t think I was quite ready for that one. But considering Rebus’s hard-drinking, heavy-smoking lifestyle, I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised.

John Rebus has never been much of a family man, and since his divorce years earlier, he hasn’t even been much of a father. It’s not that it doesn’t bother him, but Rebus seems to have ever only half-heartedly attempted to mend fences with Samantha, his only daughter. There is a degree of frostiness between the two still even though Samantha now has a daughter of her own. But when Samantha calls her father in a near panic because her partner has gone missing, and she has no one else to turn to, he comes running. 

Rebus, who is in the process of moving to his new downstairs flat because he can no longer do the stairs to his old place without stopping for a break or two along the way, immediately drops everything and heads to the Scottish coast to see what he can learn about the missing man. As the old cop he is, Rebus understands that if the man turns up dead, the locals will be looking at his daughter as their prime suspect. He also knows that even if he thinks she is guilty, he is not about to let her go to prison. 

Rankin, as he so often does, juggles two separate plot-lines along the way in A Song for the Dark Times until some of the same names start to pop up in both investigations. He keeps his readers in the loop on the Edinburgh investigation via Siobhan Clarke, Rebus’s old protégé, who informally teams up there with another recurring character, the outsider cop Malcom Fox. Both investigations are relatively complicated ones involving multiple investigators and suspects, and in the hands of a lesser-writer it all may have been a little difficult to follow, but  that’s a problem you never have with an Ian Rankin novel.

Bottom Line: The five-year break in John Rebus novels happened because Exit Music (2007) was intended to be Rebus’s “last murder case.” The inside of the book jacket even says, “Exit Music marks the final outing for the legendary Inspector John Rebus, and it proves that Edgar Award winner Ian Rankin has saved the very best for last.” But then it happened: six new Rebus novels since 2012. And what a great thing that has been. Rankin has figured out a way to keep Rebus viable and involved while strengthening the Siobhan Clarke and Malcom Fox characters at the same time. Here’s hoping there’s still a lot more to come from Inspector Rebus and his “team” before he has to resign himself to an easy chair and an oxygen machine. 

Ian Rankin

Bonus: This made me laugh in the way it so perfectly describes Rebus’s current status. It’s a scene in which Rebus is trying to convince someone that he is still a cop by claiming he’s really Malcom Fox:

‘Colin, this is Mr. Fox, a detective from Edinburgh,’ Belkin began to explain.

‘Oh, aye?’ He didn’t sound entirely convinced. ‘Bit long in the tooth, aren’t you?’

‘I’m younger than I look.’

‘Bloody well have to be.’ The gardener went to the sink, rinsing his hands and drying them on a towel his wife handed him.


  1. Oh I definitely want to read this book, I am reading all the Rebus books in order and have a couple to read before this one. It sounds great, Rebus coping with COPD, yikes and still solving crimes.

    1. You've read more of the novels than I have, Terra, mainly because I can't resist reading the new ones as they are published. I'm also working on the other end of the list, and have now read the first two with numbers three and four (along with a couple of others) on hand for when I can work them in.

      As someone who's read so many of the Rebus books, I can say with a pretty high level of confidence that you are going to love this latest one.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Good for Ian Rankin deciding to keep Rebus in the game!

    1. I mentioned on Twitter something to the effect that readers were happy that he had kept the character alive by adding later books...and he responded that he was happy about that, too. I'm betting he is. :-)