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Onyx reviews: Standing in Another Man's Grave by Ian Rankin

When Ian Rankin put his long-time series character DI Rebus out to pasture in 2006 and introduced another, readers despaired of ever seeing the crotchety, hard-drinking, heavy-smoking, music-loving, authority-ignoring Scottish inspector again. Rankin had made it a policy of aging Rebus in real time and abiding by the regulations of the local constabulary, so he was stuck.

However, all is not lost. Retired police officers are eligible to work as civilian consultants with the SCRU—serious crime review unit, a kind of cold case squad. The unit has lofty goals, but they haven't had a big success and there's always concern that they'll go on the chopping block, setting Rebus adrift again. He's staring mortality straight in the face—the novel opens with him attending the funeral of one of his former colleagues.

In a moment of weakness, Rebus agrees to meet with a woman who wanted to speak with the officer who founded the SCRU, who has long since retired. Her daughter has been missing for over a dozen years and she thinks there's a connection to a series of disappearances along the A9 motorway that leads to the northern tip of Scotland. Her visit is inspired by a fresh case that she believes is consistent with the pattern.

As it happens, Rebus's old partner Siobhan Clarke is working the recent case. Now that she's no longer in Rebus's shadow, Clarke is an up-and-comer in the CID, but she believes in Rebus's instincts, and thus agrees to follow up. A pattern indeed exists. In the more recent disappearances, the missing women sent a photograph of a rural scene from their cell phones. In the older cases, the technology to do this didn't exist. However, there are enough other similarities that the case expands and Rebus is loaned from SCRU to his old division since he brought the case to them.

There's very little hard evidence to work from, though. No one recognizes the location in the photos. This leads Rebus (sometimes in the company of Clarke) on a number of long drives along the narrow and slow-moving motorway in search of inspiration and clues. Rebus's Saab is as rundown as its owner, but it takes him where he needs to go, even to his estranged daughter's front door on one occasion.

Rebus is the archetypal loner. He has two friends in the world: Clarke and his old nemesis Big Ger Cafferty, though he would never call Cafferty a friend. Rebus saved the crime lord's life and now that they are both somewhat retired from their respective professions, Cafferty feels obliged to repay the debt by taking Rebus out for drinks every other week. Rebus can't be sure whether Cafferty is out of the game or not, but it pays to keep in touch with the other side. However, their meetings bring Rebus to the attention of Malcolm Fox of the Complaints division, Edinburgh's equivalent to Internal Affairs.

Fox, who has starred in Rankin's most recent novels, believes Rebus is dirty. They once worked in the same division and Fox is jealous that people were willing to overlook Rebus's sketchy tactics because he got results and closed cases. This is the first time readers have had a chance to really see Fox from an external (and sympathetic) perspective. He seems bureaucratic, petty, vindictive and narrow-minded. He doesn't size up next to Rebus very well, despite his obvious concern that Clarke is jeopardizing her career by continuing her association with Rebus.

The case has all the requisite twists and turns. For a long time, though, there is a distinct lack of strong candidates for the killer. The most recent missing girl has ties to a family with a criminal history, and she was last seen in the vicinity of a road repair project where a number of foreign workers camped, but none of these feel like legitimate suspects. 

The investigation takes a major turn when Rebus's travels pay off and the scene from the photograph is identified. Since the new crime scene is outside of Edinburgh's jurisdiction, Rebus and Clarke are somewhat surplus to requirements—Rebus especially since he has no official standing as a police officer. They are allowed to hang around (sometimes behind the crime scene tape with the other hangers-on), but there's not much they can contribute. Whenever Rebus can't do something officially, he goes off the books, conducting his own investigation. His rogue behavior is often at the expense of others, who have to pay the price for his disregard for procedure. However, Rebus always gets results, even if they're the sort that people aren't happy with.

For a while, readers speculated that Rankin would shift his focus to Siobhan Clarke, Rebus's protégé. She has moved on from Rebus in several ways. Though there was never a romantic interest between the two, her personal and professional lives always seemed stunted when she was around him. She has a bright future in CID and a new lover, though both are jeopardized when Rebus returns. Even so, her character has never seemed strong enough to carry a series and this remains true in the latest novel.

Edinburgh has always been a big part of the Rebus books. In Standing in Another Man's Grave, Rankin takes the former DI away from his comfort zone and into unexplored parts of Scotland. He and Clarke stand on a northern peninsula watching dolphins frolic in the sea. At times, Rebus thinks that he would only have to go a few feet off the beaten track to stand on ground where no one else has been before.  

If he can find a way to pass a physical, which will be no mean feat, Rebus could return again in a future novel since the retirement age for cops has recently been raised. It would be a welcome return, especially now that Fox has been dethroned and somewhat tarnished by this book.

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