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Onyx reviews: The Naming of the Dead by Ian Rankin

The end is in sight for Detective Inspector John Rebus. Mandatory retirement lurks over the horizon, barely two years distant. The hard-drinking, brash, ferociously independent DI is not content to go quietly into that dark night, though. If anything, he is liberated by the notion that his days on the job are numbered, and he doesn't plan to coast across the finish line.

Still, he's intensely aware of his mortality. The Naming of the Dead—the title comes from a ceremony commemorating those killed in the Iraq war—opens with Rebus attending his younger brother Mickey's funeral. Rebus hasn't exactly led a healthy lifestyle, what with his fondness for the drink, pub food and the occasional ciggie. A call from Siobhan gives him a welcome excuse to escape from the burial service and all it represents. Opportunities lost.

Scotland is hosting the July 2005 G8 summit. The powers that be want to make sure no bad press outshines the momentous meeting of the world's political and financial minds. When a junior MP falls to his death from a parapet at Edinburgh Castle during a banquet, the police are frozen out. The death is declared accidental, even though it could easily have been suicide…or murder. The fact that the MP's hotel room and other expenses are being comped by a man associated with weapons dealing in Iraq makes it seem like there may be a cover-up.

Rebus and his protégé Siobhan Clarke suspect a serial killer may be leaving souvenirs of his kills near the G8 site. Collier, the one known "victim" (the police hesitate to call him that), is a recently released rapist. Big Ger Cafferty helps Rebus identify the other two deceased individuals. The only link is the fact that their profiles all appeared on a sex offender website called BeastWatch. Even the cops believe these guys got exactly what they deserved.

The English head of conference security—the same man who quashed the MP death investigation—wants them to keep a low profile until the dignitaries leave, taking with them the world press and the obligatory demonstrators—who number in the hundreds of thousands, having been fuelled by Bob Geldof's call to arms. Rebus is one of the few police officers in the United Kingdom not assigned to G8 security, and he can't abide to sit around twiddling his thumbs. He has to investigate, no matter who the victims are or what feathers he ruffles.

Rebus hates feeling indebted to and used by the mobster Cafferty, who also seems to be trying to sink his hooks into Siobhan, recognizing her as Rebus's heir apparent. For her part, Siobhan has to deal with her hippie parents, who are part of the Peace March, camping out in a makeshift RV park, singing protest songs and befriending strangers, one of whom keeps popping up in unexpected places. Her mother is injured in a confrontation between the protestors, police and the hooligans. Local hooligans—who may be part of a turf war involving Cafferty over an Edinburgh district—take advantage of the relative chaos, trying to incite the protestors to violence and vandalizing the community—including Siobhan's car. Twice.

Edinburgh has always been a character in the Rebus books, especially the dark side of the city that tourists seldom see. However, more than in any previous novel, The Naming of the Dead is firmly rooted in the real world. Rebus even has a hand in a historic event—he is inadvertently responsible for a famous politician's tumble from his bicycle at the G8 conference. The Live 8 concert is shadowing the G8, and over three dozen people are killed in the terrorist attacks on the London underground, rocking the nation during the summit's final days.

The Naming of the Dead is a complex novel. At 420 pages, it's not a fast read, and it bogs down somewhat in the last quarter as Rebus and Siobhan peel the layers off a seemingly infinite onion of deception. True to character, Rebus's blunderbuss approach to the investigation gets him yanked from the case. He simply refuses to acknowledge anyone else's authority. It helps that his moral compass runs truer than that of just about any other human being. He is totally incorruptible, which makes every interaction with Cafferty resemble a chess match. He constantly tests his resolve by placing himself within Cafferty's sphere of influence, recognizing something of himself in his nemesis. As Michael Connelly says in Echo Park, Big Ger fed the wrong dog and Rebus fed the right one.

Siobhan understands the truth of both men. She treads dangerously close to following her mentor's path, and she's afraid of what she will become if she does, but she also admires Rebus and knows there are worse fates than being somewhat like him.

Rankin has allowed Rebus to age in real time. For several years now he has known that his cornerstone character will be eased out to pasture. The next Rankin novel will probably be the last with Rebus on the job. It will be interesting to see how both he and Rebus face that landmark day. While Siobhan may take center stage, it is unlikely that Rebus will simply fade away. He will likely find a way to keep his hands in the pies. After all, he's always been a rogue and renegade and does his best investigating while on suspension. A little thing like retirement probably won't keep him down for long.

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