What is loudly heralded as the final case for Edinburgh Detective Inspector John Rebus sees Ian Rankin returning to the form that established his name as one of Britain’s keenest crime writers back in the mid-1990s. Although the most recent outings lacked the vigour and richness that elevated the series’ undoubted highlight, Black and Blue, far above the opposition, Exit Music ends on a genuine high.
Before DI John Rebus’ scheduled retirement in November 2006, he and Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke are attempting to clear up a batch of unsettled cases. Their progress (or lack or it) is interrupted when a dissident Russian poet is killed after an apparent mugging goes badly wrong.
Edinburgh is playing host to a Russian delegation and the powers that be are keen that the case should be wrapped up as quickly and discretely as possible. But Rebus and Clarke aren’t too sure, especially when a second, seemingly connected, death occurs. Then local gangster and Rebus’ long-term nemesis, ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty, is brutally attacked and the Inspector finds himself the prime suspect.
Exit Music is pretty much a book of two halves. In an unacknowledged homage to John Updike’s ‘Rabbit’ series, the first line on the first page repeats the opening sentence in the very first Rebus book, Knots and Crosses: ‘The girl screamed once, only the once.’ After that, the novel clip-clops along without too much sparkle. Rebus looks back on his life and on his ‘career’ and we are taken along for the journey. For a while there’s the fear that there’s just too much navel-gazing and too little investigation.
Then Rankin’s professional mastery kicks in and the final half of Exit Music entertains, surprises and ultimately satisfies. Anyone who thought they had the solution licked by page 100 will certainly be admitting defeat before they hit the last page.
Along the way Rankin drops hints as to what the next move will be. Who will be Siobhan’s CID partner and will she take over the series, with Rebus perhaps acting the part of a weird, whiskey-sodden Mycroft Holmes? Or maybe Rebus will be reluctantly invited to join the Serious Crimes Review Unit looking – in the style of BBC TV’s New Tricks at cold, unsolved cases? Perhaps both; maybe neither? Jim Driver