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Ian Rankin and John Rebus return in ‘House of Lies’

The author "retired" his most famous character, dogged Scottish investigator John Rebus, but that has just opened new avenues for storytelling, as Rankin's new novel richly shows.

Ian Rankin, author of "In a House of Lies."
Ian Rankin, author of "In a House of Lies."Read

In a House of Lies

By Ian Rankin

Little, Brown. 384 pp. $27

Reviewed by Oline H. Cogdill

Edinburgh police detective John Rebus has never gone quiet into that good night. Although Ian Rankin “officially” retired his perennial character in 2007’s Exit Music, Rebus has never been far from detective work, whether as an official police consultant or, more likely, just butting in.

The 17 novels about Rebus with the Edinburgh police department linked Scottish history with insightful detective work. The five with Rebus as a free agent are very much about institutional knowledge, how it fits with contemporary sleuthing, and how its loss changes things. Rebus feels his age every day — his bad habits have caught up with him. But his keen mind and way of looking at the world continue.

In a House of Lies finds Rebus getting involved with a case handled by Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke, his old colleague and one of the few people he trusts. The skeletal remains of private detective Stuart Bloom have just been discovered in a remote wood. Bloom went missing in 2008, and it appears the body was moved at least once. Bloom’s ankles were shackled with police-issue handcuffs, suggesting police corruption. Bloom was a tenacious private investigator with a number of police enemies. That he also happened to be gay may indicate homophobic factors.

Rebus follows his instincts and knowledge of the past, leading to a low-budget filmmaker, dirty cops, and the forgotten case Bloom was working on.

The platonic relationship between Rebus and Clarke has long provided a solid foundation for this series. The two are often frustrated with each other, but there is never any doubt that each respects the other. Rankin’s decision to make Rebus accept mandatory retirement ended the character’s police career but has provided new avenues of rich storytelling.

Oline H. Cogdill reviews books for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, where this review originally appeared.