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Rankin scores again with 20th Rebus thriller

Scotsman Ian Rankin is on his game with Little, Brown and Co.’s new release of his Saints of the Shadow Bible.

There are few crime fiction writers minting this kind of currency, and Rankin has been doing spectacular work in 20 of his John Rebus novels, dating back to 1987 with Knots & Crosses.

Rankin’s John Rebus, now in forced retirement after an indecorous career as Edinburgh’s legendary homicide detective, has insinuated himself back on the force at a lower rank and with no responsibility, yet again defying authority and influencing investigations with his patented insight at loggerheads with modern “best practices.” Rankin has matured Rebus into an even more engaging character in retirement, first with Standing in Another Man’s Grave published in 2013 and now with Saints of the Shadow Bible. I don’t know where Rankin found this guy, but John Rebus is hands down the most fascinating protagonist in the genre. He’s at once brilliant, modest, truculent, seductive and bewitching – the personification of “street cred.” You can’t but love him.

Ian Rankin is a consummate teller of tall tales, in league with the likes of Henning Mankell, Håkan Nesser, Peter Lovesey, P.D. James and Carolyn Hart and Stieg Larsson – the masters of language and suspense – and John Rebus is himself worthy of a biography. It comes without wonder Rankin has won an Edgar Award, a Gold Dagger, a Chandler-Fulbright Award and the rarified Diamond Dagger for Career Excellence.

In Saints, Rebus finds himself as a fulcrum in the newly reopened homicide case of 30 years ago, botched by an impudent band of Edinburgh policemen calling themselves “The Saints of the Shadow Bible.” He was at the time an initiate in this cabal of veteran detectives, and Malcolm Fox of Internal Affairs is now out to prove that these imperious cops falsified evidence, so they could keep the killer of a local thug on the streets and informing.

The murder was committed in the 1980s before DNA testing, with scant forensics, and a police force self-enabled to keep the peace and effect justice as they saw fit. The Saints were ordained with each of five detectives spitting on the book of criminal-justice statutes and swearing allegiance to each other no matter the thimblerig. Their mantra was “My town, my rules.” Most of their humbuggery was in the public good, all of it was effective and a good deal was from the Shadow Bible and unspeakable.

With Rebus’ sinecure keeping him around the department, Fox gnaws away at him for leads into the nefarious doings of the Saints. He’s a good cop, Rebus, and while he characteristically refuses to cooperate with authority, especially the parasitic Internal Affairs, he’s wily enough to cozy up to Fox and assist in bringing the two sides together. Coloring outside the lines is OK with Rebus; murder isn’t. Because he can’t prove to Fox it wasn’t he who set the scam, he uses his cunning to manipulate the Saints to extremes.

Saints of the Shadow Bible was released on Jan. 14; there are now 11 months left to see if anybody comes close to the being the best crime fiction of the year.

JeffMannix.com. Jeff Mannix is a local journalist and author.

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