Rankin’s most famous character is long retired but still prowls the dark corners of Edinburgh.
Some Scottish crime writers are apparently incapable of closing the books on their most famous characters.
No, this isn’t about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who famously resurrected Sherlock Holmes after the great detective’s adoring public refused to let him stay dead.
But there’s a link of sorts between Conan Doyle, born in Edinburgh, and his fellow Scotsman Ian Rankin. Rankin’s most famous character — Detective Inspector John Rebus, also of Edinburgh —has long been retired. Clearly, though, he still needs to scratch the itch that crime brings on.
The author of “Rather Be the Devil” will celebrate 30 years of Inspector John Rebus at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21, at the Central Library’s Microsoft Auditorium, 1000 Fourth Ave., Seattle. Admission is free; more details at 206-386-4636 or spl.org.
Rebus’ beat is the dark corners of Edinburgh — the parts that tourists rarely see. Those dark corners are the backdrop in “Rather Be the Devil” (Little, Brown, 320 pp., $27.00), which marks the 30th anniversary of Rebus’ first appearance. (Two other coppers, Siobhan Clarke and Malcolm Fox, have featured in other series and co-star in several Rebus books.)
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Instead of spending his golden years playing golf or pottering around his apartment, Rebus still noses his way into police business. Though he has no formal standing, he still uses his connections (notably Clarke and Fox), as well as his well-honed cop instincts and attitudes, to look at cold cases.
Rebus is still his old, dogged, smart, authority-hating self. But one thing is new: always an enthusiastic smoker and drinker, he has cut down on both.
Especially the cigarettes, since recent checkups indicate impending disaster. (To drive home the point, Rebus’ girlfriend, a pathologist, presents him with a portion of diseased lung in a specimen jar.)
Rebus’ latest case concerns a murder from the late 1970s. A socialite, Maria Turquand, was strangled in a classy hotel, but there were never any arrests. Her death coincided with a stay at the hotel by a rock star, Bruce Collier, back in his native Edinburgh for a concert. (Music has always figured prominently in the Rebus books.)
Now, in present time, Collier is living again in Edinburgh, and his apartment’s proximity to the scene of the murder piques Rebus’ interest. Coincidence?
Rebus turns to Clarke and Fox for help, and in turn they get help from him on their own current case. A gangster has been severely beaten, and the word on the street is that Big Ger Cafferty, the most powerful of the city’s criminals, may have ordered it.
Cafferty, like Rebus, is nominally retired but keeps his hand in. The two have, over the years, formed a grudging respect for one another that sometimes approaches friendship, and Rebus agrees to sound him out for Fox and Clarke.
A thread of melancholy runs through “Rather Be the Devil” — age, illness, the nagging feeling of no longer being in the loop. Still: We’d be fools to count Rebus out just yet.