Onyx reviews: A
Question of Blood by Ian Rankin
Inspector Rebus is among the grittiest, edgiest protagonists in modern crime
fiction. When he's not under suspension for some offence—real or perceived—he's under the watchful eye of his superiors for his next misstep. He lives
alone, having driven off practically anyone who has ever loved him, and his
surrogate family consists of those police office colleagues that he deems worthy
of his attention.
Chief among these is Siobhan Clarke, a strong woman in her own right and capable
of putting up with Rebus' guff and giving as good as it gets when they spar
verbally. However, Clarke picked up a stalker recently and when the man dies in
a house fire of suspicious origins and Rebus turns up in the hospital the next
day with burnt hands, Clarke can't help but wonder if Rebus has overstepped his
bounds in protecting her from the miscreant.
Rebus is able to dodge scrutiny for a few days after he gets out of the hospital
by getting picked up to assist a nearby precinct with a multiple murder-suicide
case. A former SAS (special ops) Army soldier showed up at a high school and
when the shooting was over two students were dead, a third was wounded and the
ex-soldier dead at his own hand.
For most police officers, this would have been an open-and-shut case. The man
had gone off the deep end. What more needed to be known? For Rebus, though,
ex-Army himself and a failed SAS candidate, the question of why nags at him.
What triggered the meltdown of a man who had been living a fairly quiet life
running a water-ski operation in the Edinburgh suburbs.
Complicating matters is the fact that the surviving student is the son of Jack
Bell, a local politician who recently had an embarrassing run in with the police
while negotiating terms with a prostitute. Rebus, who hates that Bell is trying
to use the publicity to rehabilitate his reputation, spares the man no slack,
further ruffling the feathers of his superiors, who are less inclined to stir up
the political pot.
For all its size, Edinburgh is a small city in a country where guns are rare and
even the police department is still unarmed except for a special weapons
division. Threads from the two cases—Clarke's stalker and the school shooting
- begin to intertwine.
Rebus is his inimitable self, playing his cards close to his vest as he begins
to see the bigger picture and understands why two Army investigators have
involved themselves in the school shooting case. Under a veil of suspicion from
his superiors over the fatal fire—stirred further by an eager tabloid
journalist—Rebus continues to play his usual role of rogue cop for whom the
ends always justify the means regardless of how many official toes he steps on
along the way.
Rankin gives his supporting cast increasingly bigger parts in this continuing
series, a wise choice considering that Rebus is approaching retirement age and
will have to hand the torch off to someone else, probably Siobhan Clarke, who
lives as solitary a life as her superior officer does.
Rankin's black sense of humor and rock sensibility permeates his protagonist's
world view. Though decades separate them, Rebus immediately bonds with a teenage
Goth girl who is fascinated by death and runs a webcam from her bedroom. The
people he doesn't connect with are his family—one of the victims of the school
shooting was his cousin. Reunited with the boy's father, Rebus discovers that
some of his fond recollections of youth are tainted by the selfishness and
insecurity of teenage angst.
A Question of Blood is another strong entry in one of the most reliable crime
series coming out of the UK.
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