Rebus had lost count of the number of cases he’d worked, cases often as complex as this one, requiring interview after interview, statement after statement. He thought of the material in the boxes, now being pared over by those around him--paperwork generated in order to show effort rather than with any great hope of achieving a result. Yes, he’d been on cases like that, and others where he’d despaired of all the doors knocked on, the blank faces of the questioned. But sometimes a due or a lead emerged, or two people came forward to furnish the same name. Suspects were whittled down. Alibis and stories unraveling after the third or fourth retelling. Pressure was sustained, enough evidence garnered to present to the Procurator Fiscal.
And then there were the lucky breaks--the things that just happened. Nothing to do with dogged perseverance or shrewd deduction: just sheer bloody happenstance. Was the end result any less of a victory? Yes, always. It was possible that there was something he had missed in the files, some connection or thread. Watching the team at work, he couldn’t decide if he would want them to find it or not. It would make him look stupid, lazy, out of touch. On the other hand, they needed a break, even at the expense of his vanity.
The book opens with Rebus at the funeral for another retired cop -- it's a strong reminder that there's not much else in his future. A few more drinks, another handful of cigarettes, a few more unfinished books and then death. He's got to find away to keep himself going. Having taken to retirement like a duck to the Sahara, Rebus has found work as a civilian in a cold-case unit. It doesn't seem to be the most effective or active unit, but it's something. True to form, he spends a lot of time butting heads with the head of the unit -- who is actually a serving detective, unlike the rest of the civilians. There's a chance when the book opens that Rebus could get re-hired as a detective, and he's looking for anything to help that. When someone comes to visit the man who started this unit -- who is now very retired and unavailable -- Rebus sees his chance. He meets with this woman who claims that the recent disappearance of a young woman matches the circumstances of her daughter over a decade ago. Not just her daughter's disappearance, but some others in the intervening years. If Rebus can demonstrate there's a tie to these disappearances -- and find out what's happened to them and who's responsible (preferably while the latest victim is still alive), that would go a long way to ensuring him a way back from retirement.
It doesn't hurt that before coming to him, this distraught mother spoke to someone about the new missing person -- DI Siobhan Clarke. Now, Clarke (and her boss) aren't instantly convinced that Rebus has anything other than the desperate rantings of this woman, but she's willing to give him enough rope to get started. Which is all Rebus needs to throw himself into things.
The latest woman to go missing has some tenuous connections to organized crime figures in Edinburgh, which may have made her a target -- and also may give Rebus resources to find her that other victims' families can't give. He's not shy about exploiting either option there. He also starts diving into the files and lives of the other missing women. What he finds isn't encouraging, but it's enough to keep investigation going. Rebus being Rebus, it's not long before he starts finding enough strings to pull to get at least a few things unraveling. And once that starts, the rest of the case is vintage Rebus -- asking questions, annoying the right (and the wrong) people, and finally putting everything together. The mystery is solved in a satisfactory way, but a lot of things were uncovered along the way that some would've preferred not being uncovered, relationships damaged, people hurt and lives changed. Even the positive outcomes were largely muddied, and the grays probably outnumbered the blacks and the whites.
Naturally, there's a lot going on in this book beside the case(s). In this book, this primarily focused on three people in Rebus' life (whether he wants them there or not).
One thing that's new in Rebus' retirement is that he's picked up a new drinking buddy. Big Ger Cafferty has decided that he owes his life to Rebus (something that Rebus isn't incredibly comfortable with). So Cafferty will take Rebus out for drinks on a regular basis. Rebus' impression of Big Ger hasn't changed at all, but free drinks are free drinks. so he lets Cafferty buy. The two of them being seen in public regularly together is proof to his detractors that all the rumors were true, however. This isn't really making his case for him.
Having Rebus around is a challenge for his old friend and former mentee, Siobhan Clarke. She knows that Rebus is capable of pulling more than his fair share of rabbits from hats, and with a case/cases as messy as this, she'll take his brand of results over nothing. But, he undercuts her leadership, he distracts her people from their tasks, and frankly, makes her look bad in front of her bosses. If she can't control this civilian interloper, maybe she's not the leader they thought she was. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think Siobhan of Exit Music and before wants to think she'd turn into the kind of DI she has, either. And Rebus makes her take stock of how much she may have "sold out" just by being around. Not that she's become 100% by the book and in blind lockstep with the chain of command, but she's a lot closer to it than she had been.
And, of course, we don't say goodbye to our new friend, Malcolm Fox. We just get to see him in a new light. He's now cast as an antagonist to Rebus. He's not a villain, don't get me wrong -- but he's working against Rebus, and definitely making his life harder. Of course, the way things were headed for much of this book, Siobhan might soon find herself as an antagonist to Rebus, too. It's difficult seeing Fox in these terms, but thankfully we know we can like and trust him from his own two books, because there's very little in these pages to commend him. But we know that Fox is a straight-shooter and he's only got Rebus in his sights because he thinks he deserves it. Well, and maybe he got his nose bent out of shape by the man when he was in CID with him. But primarily it's Rebus' lifestyle -- the smoking, the drinking, the going off on his own to investigate -- Fox sees Rebus as a relic, the old model of detective that the service is trying to get away from. The kind of bad influence that could tank Clarke's promising career. And then there's his public drinking with Cafferty (not to mention all the rumors about the two of them). We know Fox is wrong -- about the serious stuff anyway. But we also know he's not totally wrong about Rebus. The only question is, will Rebus be able to win Fox over, or will he be able to work around him?
I like the Fox-Rebus dynamic, in the short-term. But I think it could get really old, really fast.
It looks like the next book will have Rebus back in CID, which is a shame. In a sense. Now, let me explain myself before Paul (and maybe others) fills my inbox/comments with objections. I'm not opposed to Rebus becoming a detective again. But I like Rebus doing cold case work. When he's worked cold cases before -- whether out of curiosity or because they've been reopened -- he's done really well, and the resulting books were really good. Fox did pretty good with a cold case, too, let's not forget. In other words, Ian Rankin can write a very effective novel with his protagonists working cold cases, and I'd like to see Rebus doing nothing else for a while (especially as a civilian). Then again, we got a handful of Bosch novels doing that, why get greedy?
I enjoyed the Fox books, but this felt like coming home. It was only a few lines into the book before I think I "felt" the difference, we were back where we were supposed to be. I'm not sure how accurate that was then, but the book as a whole felt different than the Fox books did. Rankin kept a lot of plates spinning, balls in the air, or whatever cliché you want to use, here -- he brought back Rebus, shook up his life a bit more, showed that Clarke was doing fine on her own, brought Fox in, showed what post-Big Ger Edinburgh was like, set up the next stage of Rebus' career, and managed to tell a heckuva twisty murder/missing persons story. He probably accomplished a few other things, too, but that list is enough. Standing in Another Man's Grave is just another bit of proof that Rankin is among the genre's crème de la crème.