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Onyx reviews: Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin

Poor Rebus. He's already been through forced retirement. Then he was brought back to investigate cold cases and has now scrounged a spot in CID, except there was no room for someone of his former rank, so he's a lowly Detective Sergeant, the same rank he held a quarter of a century earlier. Siobhan Clarke, his one-time subordinate and protégé, now outranks him. He might be forgiven for not knowing exactly who his bosses are, especially since the police force is undergoing a major reorganization. There are a lot of nervous cops in the Scottish capital, especially high ranking officers who aren't sure there will be place for them in the new order.

The Solicitor General is using a new ruling that weakens double jeopardy to reopen a case from 30 years ago, when Rebus was a Detective Constable at Summerhall CID. A snitch named Saunders, accused of murder, was released because evidence was mishandled by Rebus's superiors. Did the police deliberately bungle the case because Saunders was more valuable to them on the street? 

Those posted to Summerhall called themselves the Saints of the Shadow Bible—referring to the Scots Civil Law book. The Detective Inspector at the time "fell on his sword" to keep his colleagues and their practices from falling under close scrutiny. The police force was a different world back then. Planting evidence, coercing confessions and violent interrogations were standard operating procedure. One character comments that the BBC series Life on Mars was almost a documentary of that time. 

Rebus, at 66, is the youngest surviving Saint. Some have passed on, or are in the process of doing so. While Rebus was too junior to have been involved in the Saunders scandal, his hands aren't entirely clean. The man in charge of the investigation for the Complaints (the British version of Internal Affairs) is Malcolm Fox, who Rebus has brushed up against in the past. Fox is dogged and by-the-book. This will be his last case for the Complaints before he rotates back into CID, forced to work side-by-side with officers he has investigated in the past.

The cold case isn't the only thing occupying Rebus's days, however. Clarke compares him to a chess wizard playing several games at once, and he soon proves her description accurate, getting involved in  a number of cases, each with a different lead investigator. The lines separating these inquiries are blurred, allowing Rebus to wander among them almost at will. First there is a late-night car wreck in a remote part of Edinburgh. It seems straightforward, but Rebus wonders if something more might be at play, especially when he learns that the supposed driver is dating the son of a prominent supporter of Scottish sovereignty. (His former boss at Summerhall is now a vocal supporter for the opposition.) The politician is later attacked in his home in what appears to be a bungled burglary. Then a key witness in the Saunders investigation goes missing.

Rebus is naturally suspicious of the Complaints, and Fox knows Rebus's file inside and out. Fox knows that Rebus has little use for rules, but he's never found enough evidence to prosecute. With Siobhan Clarke acting as referee, the two men dance around each other like boxers in the ring until they reach a kind of detente and, eventually, a grudging mutual respect. Both are loners, consumed by the job. Fox is younger, a stickler and a sober alcoholic. Rebus is a renegade, a functioning alcoholic near the end of his useful days. Once Rebus is willing to admit that he and his former colleagues at Summerhall took some serious liberties with the justice system, the two men work together to sort out the Saunders case. However, he still has some allegiance to the surviving Saints, so he has to walk a delicate line, withholding information from Fox and Clarke at times, and misleading his various bosses. The three "colleagues," the only ones capable of seeing the big picture, form an unofficial shadow team to pull the whole thing together.

Will this be the last readers see of Rebus? Rankin has been writing the series in real time, so his main character's days have been numbered for a few years. The story begun in the prologue and tidied up in the final pages could be his curtain call, as he closes another cold case in standard Rebus fashion, playing loose with the rules and using any means necessary to get his man. While Fox has never been as popular a character, Rankin does his best to remediate the man in this book, perhaps for future use.

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