Even Dogs in the Wild a Thrilling Twisty Mystery

Even Dogs in the Wild (2016 U.S. publication)
By Ian Rankin
Orion, 352 pages.

Scottish novelist Ian Rankin is the master of what I call the "twisty mystery," the ones that take various turns and have more red herrings than a trawler crashing into a dye factory. This is Rankin's twentieth book in which grizzled Detective Inspector (DI) John Rebus plays a central role, though now he's retired, bored, and even crankier. But you won't need to have ever read a page of Rankin to appreciate the part Rebus plays in Even Dogs in the Wild. The title, by the way, comes from a song line from Associates, a defunct Scottish punk/New Wave band. Dogs factor into the story, though probably not in the way you imagine as you are reading.

"Not in the way you imagine" is exactly the quality that makes Rankin a master of his craft. This murder mystery centers on several Edinburgh murder victims, the highest profile of which is Lord David Menzies Minton, a retired lawyer and a member of the House of Lords. (There's a subtle Scots joke in this: Menzies is a common Scottish name, but it's also a large corporation, a retailer, and a news agency.) As in the United States, bump off a no-account and the nation yawns; kill a bigwig and the powers that be stir. Two Scottish Police districts investigate, but so too does Gartcosh, a Scottish investigative campus that's allegedly going to bring crime solving into the 21st century. They send a special six-member unit headed by the secretive and obnoxious Ricky Compston, who commandeers office space and throws his considerable weight about. Call this one a computers-and-special-ops-meets old-fashioned legwork mystery. Rebus finagles a detective consultant role, thanks to his protégé DI Siobhan Clarke. (That's shee-von' for non-Scots speakers!) That's also welcome news to DI Malcolm Fox, who works across town, was also tutored by Rebus, and is good friends (but more?) with Clarke. Here's what anyone has to go on: Minton's murderer left a note: 'I'M GOING TO KILL YOU FOR WHAT YOU DID." The m.o. is similar to that of the murder of lottery winner Michael Tolland, but he wasn't a guy who moved in Minton's circles. Even stranger, (semi-) retired crime boss Morris "Big Ger" Cafferty also got a note like that, and someone just fired a 9mm pistol through his and narrowly missed him. (That gun caliber is unusual in Scotland.)  Cafferty suspects the Starks, a Glasgow syndicate, might have something to do with it, or perhaps local punk-with-ambition Darryl Christie, but the style doesn't mesh with either of them.

Rankin throws lots of stuff at us: police in-fighting, secrecy in high places, unholy alliances, missing people, family relationships, pub life, autopsy scenes, shake-downs, and (yes) even dogs. It's a thrilling read that I consumed in a single snowy evening and it left me considerably more satisfied than the prospect of shifting snow in the morning! The book, on a deeper level, is commentary on dying worlds (that of Rebus and Big Ger), but new ones not yet born. There are numerous hints that it's also commentary on Scotland's post-independence vote and, by extension, visions and relationships that may not be as dead as they seem. Rankin certainly seems to be setting himself up for a series reboot with Clarke and Fox, but even if you never read another Rankin novel, this one's as tasty as a fine single malt.

Rob Weir

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