There's one striking detail in Scottish writer Ian Rankin's new novel, Even Dogs in the Wild, that sharply reminds us the story is not set in the United States. After someone shoots the son of a crime boss in Edinburgh, a city of about half a million people, one of the investigators suggests it's a copycat of an earlier shooting. His Police Scotland colleague is incredulous:
" 'Meaning what?' Fox enquired. 'Another gunman? That hardly sounds likely. How many nine-millimetre pistols are being lugged around the city?' "
In an American city, you could probably find two in any given block, but in Scotland two in the same city sounds improbable — even to police officers.
Not that the lack of guns entirely keeps people from getting up to no good. Rankin is a past master of atmospheric, dark crime fiction, and in Even Dogs in the Wild, his 31st book, he's in top form.
The novel unites Rankin's three long-running series characters: Police Scotland Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke, DI Malcolm Fox and recently retired former DI John Rebus.
The last, of course, is Rankin's great creation: Fierce and often intimidating on the job and a curmudgeon in his personal life, Rebus is an unrepentant hard drinker and smoker, a lover of music and books, a man with few friends and an unshakable devotion to doing the right thing — and he's much smarter than most people take him to be.
Clarke is Rebus' protege and closest friend, as married to the job as he is but more ambitious — and hence always fighting the sexism she faces on the force. Fox is odd man out, a former investigator for the Complaints and Conduct department — cops who investigate other cops, an unpopular lot. He and Rebus were very much at odds in earlier books, but now he's working with Clarke (on whom he has an unrequited crush) on murder cases, and Rebus tolerates him with sardonic amusement.
The book's plot opens — after a mysterious and chilling prologue — with Clarke looking into the murder of Lord David Minton. The 78-year-old, retired from a high-powered prosecutor's post, has been found beaten and strangled in his study, in his posh home in Edinburgh. A window is broken, but nothing seems to have been stolen. Folded up in his wallet is a hand-printed note: "I'M GOING TO KILL YOU FOR WHAT YOU DID."
That evening, while Clarke is telling Fox about the Minton case over dinner, she gets a surprising call: reports of a gunshot. The target, who's unharmed but unwilling to talk to police, is another surprise — and another one of Rankin's most intriguing recurring characters: Big Ger Cafferty, once Edinburgh's top crime boss, now (maybe) retired.
Cafferty and Rebus have been nemeses for so long that they've developed a grudging, wary sort of friendship. Clarke figures the only way to get the old gangster to open his door is to call in Rebus.
Her former colleague is not enjoying retirement one bit. "He'd made a little list at the kitchen table: join the library, explore the city, take a holiday, see films, start going to concerts. There was a coffee ring on the list, and soon he would crumple it into the bin."
When Clarke calls, Rebus is at Cafferty's house in 15 minutes and soon after inside, cracking, "The bullet didn't hit you, then? … More's the pity."
Cafferty insists he has no idea who might have shot at him: "I'm too long out of the game to have enemies." But, despite there being no connection he knows of between himself and Minton, Cafferty received the same note: "I'M GOING TO KILL YOU FOR WHAT YOU DID."
When Fox is assigned to assist an undercover team from Glasgow doing surveillance on one of that city's crime families, he sees what look like connections to Cafferty. The Starks, father and son, seem to be hunting for a truck driver who has absconded with their property — but they might also be looking to push into Edinburgh, now the territory of a younger crime boss named Darryl Christie, who has a complicated relationship with Cafferty.
But what does that organized crime turf war have to do with Minton, or with the murder of a lottery winner with no criminal past? Does the surveillance team have a member in deep cover, infiltrating the Stark operation — and if so, who is it? Where did that gun come from, and where has it gone? What was Acorn House, and why is its history "plutonium on a floppy disk"? And who on earth was the revenant in the prologue?
Following Rebus, Clarke and Fox as they make the connections between present crimes and those deep in the past is as satisfying as one of those pints Rebus likes to sip at the corner table by the fire in the Oxford Bar.
Contact Colette Bancroft at email@example.com or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.