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'Resurrection Men' by Ian Rankin

Rankin's detectives are on the trail of murderers and redemption

Sunday, January 26, 2003

By Bob Hoover, Post-Gazette Book Editor

Ian Rankin might be in line to become the Ed McBain of Great Britain with this new crime tale, his 15th about a corps of detectives in Edinburgh, Scotland.

 
 
"Resurrection Men"

By Ian Rankin

Little, Brown ($19.95)

   
 

It's a tartan version of the 87th Precinct; here, the cops say "bonny" and "wee" between gulps of the eponymous national beverage.

The main guzzler is Detective Inspector John Rebus (is his last name "fraught" with significance?), a maverick with a troubled past but a knack for solving puzzling crimes.

This time, he's in the middle of two unsolved murders -- a 6-year-old slaying of a Glasgow hoodlum and the fresh head-bashing of an Edinburgh art dealer.

Rankin's clever plot is more complicated than a haggis recipe and, sometimes, just as nauseating.

The cops aren't dealing with upright Presbyterians here but with the lowlife of the Highlands: mobsters, hookers, junkies and "bent" lawmen, bent meaning crooked.

(The publisher was kind enough to include an explanation of Scottish police organization and a cast of characters, but not a Scots dictionary, also sorely needed.)

Rebus' real job is an undercover one. As a setup, he flips a full mug of tea at his superior officer and is sentenced to a retraining course with a bunch of other recalcitrant detectives who are suspected of heisting a drug haul.

He's to gain their confidence but often wonders if he's really the target.

This retraining with hope of official redemption explains the title -- they are to resurrect their shaky careers by passing a refresher course. The "Wild Bunch," as they dub themselves, is assigned to dig up fresh evidence on the old case under the gaze of a trainer.

Back in Edinburgh, Rebus' partner, Siobhan Clarke, must delve into the art dealer's slaying without full-time assistance from the older detective while fending off the sexist jokes and the passes of her male counterparts.

Rankin is adept at keeping both balls in the air without muddling things too much, but confusion is inevitable. His hero's past plays a crucial role in one investigation while spilling over into the other. It gets a little misty on the moors at one point.

And, there's a fishy smell coming from red herrings strewn along the path, the biggest being Big Ger Cafferty, the Tony Soprano of Edinburgh, who could have his hand around Rebus' sporran.

While Clarke strains to prove gender equality, making some mistakes, one fatal, on the way, Rebus makes his share of blunders as well, jeopardizing cases and careers in the process.

Rankin's theme is that these coppers are all too human, full of frailty and guilty of unsavory deals, but their goal is noble. It's a realistic if obvious point, but played out with suspense, humor and a clever eye for detail.


Bob Hoover can be reached at bhoover@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1634.

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