Published November 2016.
Judging by this single book, Rankin is a journeyman writer who is good at both character and plot. His main man is a police detective named John Rebus, who is, in the cliched-hallowed literary tradition of crime fiction, a pensioner with no straight arrow boss to bust his chops. There is the further cliched-hallowed implication that he has two sidekicks, Fox and Clarke, to keep him within conventional boundaries. Despite my rather sarcastic tone, I don’t really begrudge a writer these familiar parameters. Look what Shakespeare did with his little fourteen lines and a tight rhyme scheme. A “Rather Be the Devil” is an average book. The crime and its method are in a sense ripped from the headlines, but the means, method, and motive are nicely twisted. There are a number of excellent red herrings smelling up the works. As usual there are some unexpected twists-and-turns in the story, and Rankin's masterful depiction of Scotland and its people, ranging far beyond Rebus' usual Edinburgh haunts to take in the desolate countryside. Alas, the rapport between Clarke and Rebus has seen better days. As always we understand how Rebus is able to “solve” the cases; I’s because he is a canny listener. He hears things from all quarters, friends and foes and suspects, and infers meaning other have not. I still love this kind of a stale read. It's still an adventure into new compelling territory that exclude the outside world (Rebus gets a whiff of what it means to be ill). What a treat it was to hunker down with Rebus again and inhabit his life with him. And cold cases that threaten to intrude on the present are particularly delicious. Long gone the days when he was fresh from retirement, being pig headed in his conviction to do things his way, and not so much with the conventional, by the book police way. Rankin’s writing is particularly attuned to adding the second story elements and makes it compelling, without straining the tale's credulity. As always, complications and challenges dot the detective's path. Caducity in the police force, where know-how is ignored in favour of more modern police methods, filled with cell phone texting. What is Rankin thinking after having finished writing it? Should he kill Rebus off, but where would that leave him? All in all, a “mittelmässiges” read with almost no holes in plot or reasoning that I discerned. A rarity in the Crime Fiction fodder.