Thursday, 1 November 2007

Exit Music by Ian Rankin

DI John Rebus is beside the hospital bed of his nemesis, Big Ger Cafferty. The gangster who has dogged Rebus throughout his career is in a coma, but Rebus is not offering sympathy: “Wake up you old bastard…Playtime’s over…No point you hiding there inside that thick skull of yours. I’m waiting for you out here.”

No one else is concerned for the invalid and, Rebus reflects: “Cafferty had no friends. His wife was dead, his son murdered years back. His trusted lieutenant of long standing had ‘disappeared’ after a falling-out.”

But then, what does Rebus have? Divorced, daughter disabled in an attack that was probably an act of revenge against her father, the one promising relationship that threaded through earlier books extinguished by his career. At least he still has his trusted lieutenant, DS Siobhan Clarke.

Exit Music - the eighteenth in Ian Rankin’s wonderful series about the hard-drinking, Seventies-music loving, authority-hating Edinburgh detective - covers the last 10 days before Rebus’s retirement. He wants to tie up loose ends; finally nailing Cafferty being chief among them.

Once again, Rankin threads big themes through the novel: this time weaving the arrival of dubious Russian billionaires in an Edinburgh whose political and business establishment welcomes them, with a crime that appears to echo the murder through radioactive poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko.

Events lead Rebus on a trail in which the overworld and the underworld intertwine. Cafferty seems to have gone legit and is cooking up deals with the visitors, as is Edinburgh’s (fictional) leading bank; an institution with the income of a small country led by men with the morals of the mafia. Rebus reaches the conclusion that “it wasn’t so much the underworld you had to fear as the overworld.”

As ever, it is Rebus who provides the focus for the book. Through his eyes, “banking and brothels, virtue and vitriol”, everything in Edinburgh is connected. Right and wrong, good and evil, are merely two sides to the same coin.

As the days tick by to his retirement he is left facing the void. As he says to a “Bible-thumping” new recruit: “Years back, I tried a few different churches. Didn’t find any answers.”

Yet, he sees himself as a confessor. “This old priest he had known…had said that cops were like the priesthood, the world their confessional.”

And, as he prepares to pass over into the living death of retirement, he tells Siobhan all his sins against the police rule book: “hoping for absolution”.

But, before he goes, can he take Cafferty down? Not “unless God really was up there, handing Rebus his last slim chance…”

At the very end, Rankin allows us to believe that the answer to that question is yes.