Onyx reviews: Exit Music by Ian Rankin
readers of Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus novels have long known that this day was
coming, but like just about every other landmark event in life, Rebus's
retirement seemed like it was would never actually get here. But it has.
When the book opens, Rebus has just over a week left in the only job he's
ever known. To prepare for the big day—after issuing a strict embargo against
embarrassing farewell fetes—he's been taking his protégé Siobhan Clark through
the cold case files, the little bits of unfinished business he's bequeathing to
her. As niggling as these unresolved cases are, there's a much larger piece of
unfinished business: Big Ger Cafferty, the "reformed" crime lord who
is behind just about every illegal deal and shady transaction in Edinburgh.
Rebus hates it that he can't end his career on a high note by bringing Cafferty down.
Even worse, when he discovers that Cafferty is under investigation and the cops might actually have a solid case, he resents
the fact that he might not be the
one to land him.
Rebus's final case involves the murder of a Russian poet, a dissident
expatriate who is persona non grata in his homeland. With the notoriety
surrounding the (real-life) poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian
embassy is sensitive to the possibility that this killing might reflect poorly
on nationals living in Scotland—especially since a group of rich Russian
businessmen is currently visiting the city in hopes of finalizing some critical
real estate investments.
The brutal killing started in a parking garage and ended in a poorly lit,
notoriously dangerous street. Three people happen upon the scene shortly after
the attack—a young woman and a couple on their way home from rehearsals for a
Christmas pageant. None of them seem to have any connection to the crime, but
the more Rebus and Siobhan investigate, the more it seems like there's a conspiracy afoot. Every lead takes them across the path of either a
politician or a banker, or someone who knows a politician or a banker.
Edinburgh seems like a very small city—at least
the dark side Rebus frequents. Making it seem even smaller is
the proliferation of CCTV cameras that provide video coverage of most of the
city, except where it is most needed—inside the parking garage where the crime
took place. There's a Big Brother—the reality TV show, not the 1984
allusion—aspect to the situation that doesn't escape Rebus's notice.
The politicians belong to the Scottish National Party (SNP), an organization
that hopes that Scotland will one day regain its independence from
England. The First Albannach Bank is one of the biggest employers and most
profitable companies in Scotland, a valuable asset to a newly established
nation. Certain factions of the populace think independence might happen as soon as
the next national election. One
character muses that the reason Braveheart was such a popular movie is because
the Scots don't often get to feel good about themselves.
Because the case looks like it will outlive Rebus's tenure with the police
force, Siobhan is given the lead, which means Rebus is supposed to follow
her directives. As if. Even when Rebus is suspended—an obligatory event on
every case—he still runs the show vicariously, to the extent that he
listens in on interrogations via Siobhan's open cell phone and weighs in on his
opinion about her handling of each situation.
One of Siobhan's first and most controversial actions in the case is to
import an ambitious uniformed officer to give him a taste of life in the CID.
The young man, Goodyear, has a history with Rebus, of sorts. Rebus put
his grandfather behind bars years earlier and the man died shortly after he was
imprisoned. They dance around each other like participants in a knife fight,
each eyeing the other with suspicion. Goodyear is religious, which puts him at odds with Rebus and
Siobhan on a personal level.
Rebus is never satisfied with the easy solutions to any question and he never
allows for the possibility that he might be wrong. That's because he so seldom
is, at least not about the important matters. He may be boorish, cheap and rude,
but he has a depth of experience and a level of intuition that allows him to fumble from one clue to the next and put it all together—even when he starts out
on the wrong trail.
Rebus is taking his imminent retirement in stride. He knows he'll never move
away from Edinburgh, but he contemplates giving up his apartment for something a
little more rural. Rankin drops a mild hint at a backdoor way that Rebus can
continue to do what he loves the most, but it's Siobhan who will have to carry
the torch officially. She's well equipped to fill Rebus's shoes. Perhaps too
well; she has acquired her boss's best investigative skills and his worst
personal traits. Before too long, one assumes that it will be her sitting out
lengthy suspensions because she couldn't resist getting up the nose of her
As for tying things up in a neat bow, that doesn't happen. Rankin doesn't
traipse in all the ghosts from Rebus's past for a curtain call, at least in part
because there aren't many people from his past who care what happens to Rebus. Exit Music
doesn't have the feeling of a finale. In fact, it's probably the Rankin novel
with the least degree of resolution. Rankin came up with an intriguing spin to
the Rankin-Rebus conundrum, one that upends their relationship. It's
a masterful development, one that could only spring from the mind of an author
who has made millions of fans grow to love a crotchety old man who drinks too
much, smokes too much, cares too much about justice—and little more—and
one who needs precious little from the rest of
the human race.
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