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Ian Rankin - Saints of the Shadow Bible

It had been a while since I’d read a book by Ian Rankin. Several years ago his mystery series featuring John Rebus was the most popular in the store, but when Ian Rankin decided to write Rebus out of the series many of us who read Rankin because we had grown attached to Rebus jumped ship. Well, we were wrong. I wish now I’d read the several books between Exit Music and Saints of the Shadow Bible, which was given to my husband at Christmas – he flew through it as did I – re-discovering why we had so much enjoyed this author.

So, I’m off to visit my mother and I’ve got Exit Music, which I somehow missed reading when it was published in 2007, and the books I’ve missed in between – The Complaints, the first book featuring Malcolm Fox, The Impossible Dead the second book to feature Malcolm Fox, and Standing in Another Man’s Grave where Rebus re-appears joining Malcolm Fox, and his old partner Siobhan Clarke.


In Saints of the Shadow Bible Rebus has to confront, once and for all, his days with a group of detectives who played by their own rules. All now retired, except for Rebus who has come out of retirement – some in elevated positions, some incapacitated by illness, and others dead. Rebus came into the group as a junior member of the team, not completely trusted by the others but in there enough to have a pretty good idea that a lot of what they did to achieve a conviction was far from legal. Rebus is forced to deal with his own culpability and his aging body as he assists Clarke and Fox during a murder investigation that appears to have ties to the past and the group of detectives known as The Saints of the Shadow Bible, including Rebus himself.

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Reading Exit Music – back–tracking – takes me back to a younger John Rebus, he’s well past the difficult marriage from the early novels, he’s reduced his drinking, but still slipping out for a smoke. The death of a Russian poet may seem like a simple mugging in a dark laneway, but Rebus becomes more and more convinced that it is murder – and that this murder has something to do with the poet’s nationality. As always, Rebus beavers away at the case regardless of resistance from his superiors – of course, solving it all in the end.

Like all of the really good mystery writers Ian Rankin is skilled at building the story, adding observances that entertain and draw the reader into the time and place. I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers the cloying scent of patchouli oil – Rebus notices it in the living room of a suspect, and I’ve noticed it more this past year than anytime since the late 60s. Rebus also mourns the loss of the way that newspapers once operated – when he meets with a reporter at the Scotsman, he comments “Doesn’t take many hands to produce a paper these days”. She responds, “The old building had a lot of character to it. And so did the old newsroom, everyone scuttling around like mad trying to get a story together. Editor with his sleeves rolled up, effing and blinding. Subs smoking like chimneys and trying to sneak puns into the copy…cutting and pasting by hand. Everything’s just gotten so. …Efficient.

I know I should be reading the new novels that have been released this month, but reading Ian Rankin feels as comfortable as spending time with old friends – with three more to go before I’m done, it is the perfect way to help pass the time during this endless winter.

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