Given Rebus' moralistic mien, you wouldn't like their chances, which aren't helped when shredded documents he'd liberated from Councillor Gillespie and entrusted to a colleague are destroyed. Gillespie ends up the victim of a stabbing in a dark alley outside his council constituency which isn’t going to be much help in the efforts to persuade Rebus to change his mind unless it’s taken as an indication of how far those involved are prepared to go.

Moving from ransoms and suicides through embezzlement, murder and conspiracy at the highest levels of government Rankin keeps Rebus moving briskly through the developing plot with some charming twists along the way, including the motivation behind the rape charge that sent ‘Wee Shug’ behind bars and the means by which he manages to spend a couple of years behind bars without the other prisoners learning that he's a sex offender. 

The glimpses of a smug self satisfied elite have the reader (or at least this reader) firmly on Rebus' side and when Rebus tracks down the missing girl you can definitely see what she's running away from though you'd still question some of her choices en route.

With Let It Bleed as the first part of Rebus: The Lost Years there's a fair indication of what's in store as heavy consumption of alcohol, a fair bit of windmill-tilting and semi-dysfunctional personal relationships impinge on the pursuit of truth and justice, and those elements are there in spades again in Black and Blue, where the main plot line (if there is a main plot line in something like this) involves someone who bears a remarkable resemblance to the 1960s’ serial killer Bible John, though the reader learns soon enough that the actual Bible John is back on the ground looking to eliminate an unwanted imitator.

Those matters bubble along as one of a number of intertwined threads that has Rebus shuttling between Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, dodging internal investigators and interacting with a now-sober former colleague who’s keen to get Rebus on the wagon as well.

Separating and enumerating those strands, there's the death of North Sea oil worker Allan Mitchison, who may have been tied to a chair in a derelict building but chose to end it by jumping through the window rather than submitting to the threatened torture of a stanley-knife wielding sadist. 

At the same time attention from the media after the suicide in prison of convicted murder turned author Lenny Spaven has prompted a re-examination of his case.

With Rebus the sole surviving figure closely involved in the investigation they're camped on his doorstep looking for a statement. Rebus had worked on the Spaven case with his former boss, Lawson Geddes and they'd gained a conviction on the basis of the victim’s handbag in Spaven's lockup, though there's a strong possibility the evidence was planted by Geddes and Spaven had continued to protest his innocence through two volumes of his best-selling autobiography. Geddes, having retired to the Canary Islands has apparently committed suicide, depressed after the loss of his wife, though on-going guilt seems a strong possibility.

Rebus has his ex-colleague Brian Holmes going over his old notes from the Spaven case just in case while he investigates Mitchison’s death and continues to dig around the Bible John files. The oil worker's death seems to have all the trademarks of a Glasgow thug, and Rebus arranges a meeting with the city's Mr Big through his jailed  arch-rival Big Ger Cafferty, learns that his suspect, Tony El, allegedly no longer works for Uncle Joe Toal, and manages to accuse Glasgow CI Ancram of taking bribes from Uncle Joe shortly before learning that Ancram has been appointed to head the internal inquiry into the Spaven case.

Given the fact that Rebus isn't too keen on answering questions about the Spaven case, and is convinced that Mitchison was killed because of something to do with his work environment, Rebus commutes between Edinburgh, Aberdeen and then the Shetland Slands and a North Sea oil rig, and in the process unknowingly encounters the real Johnny Bible, who's convinced the latter day Upstart is linked to the oil industry in Aberdeen.

Bible John has also been keeping tabs on anyone who's been researching him, figuring that may well lead him to the Upstart, which it duly does, but his chance encounter with Rebus is a problem since he's handed over a business card before he realised who he was.


© Ian Hughes 2012