Standing In Another Man's Grave

Standing in another Man's Grave.jpgA man, it is said, cannot serve two masters and I’d suggest a novelist cannot run two protagonists, especially when they’re as diametrically opposed as John Rebus and Malcolm Fox.

News Ian Rankin had brought Rebus back to life in or around the force brought back memories of a remark from Rankin that Rebus was working on cold cases as a civilian, although the retirement age had been lifted and there was a possibility of him rejoining after five years away from the force. If he did he’d more than likely come across Malcolm Fox from The Complaints who might, looking back on the plot line of The Impossible Dead, be inclined to turn a blind eye to some of the Rebus irregularities provided his nose was otherwise clean.

Fox, I thought, worked rather neatly in those two titles, a man doing his (unpopular) job against a background of resentment and defiance that bordered, at times, on overt rebellion. With those two stories largely told from Fox’s point of view and through his eyes an author’s setting himself an impossible task if he sets out to analyse the events surrounding the disappearance of Annette McKie, the most recent of a number of girls who’ve disappeared around the A9, one of Scotland's major arterial roads, through both sets of eyes.

It probably could be done, but not without getting in the way of the plot line in operation here. 

Rebus might be back, operating on the fringes, but there’s one key element that’s going to work against him rejoining, and that’s an interesting change in the nature of his interaction with his nemesis, Big Ger Cafferty. At the end of Exit Music, with Cafferty in hospital, Rebus happens to save his life, exactly the sort of behaviour that would convince the watchdog that Rebus is bent. From his own point of view, of course, Rebus wants the final satisfaction of putting Big Ger away for a long spell, something that’s not going to be possible if he up and dies on you.

In any case Rebus now gets regular visits from the supposedly retired Cafferty, which is exactly the sort of thing that’s going to further arouse Fox’s suspicions. There’s also an interesting development involving Cafferty’s interaction with the family of the latest girl to disappear which isn’t going to make Rebus look too good from where Fox is sitting.

The Rebus-Fox interactions are, at this point, very much a side issue, By the end of this particular narrative, with Rebus having sorted out a string of cold cases and the latest disappearance you can see potential for this interaction to develop further, particularly with Rebus’ former colleague, Siobhan Clarke, moving up through the ranks. 

As far as Fox is concerned, Rebus should be extinct ... Somehow the Ice Age came and went and left him still swimming around while the rest of us evolved and has spent so many years crossing the line he's managed to rub it out altogether.

The assessments running in the other direction are equally blunt. As far as Rebus is concerned, Fox could have been middle management in a plastics company or Inland Revenue, so while we mightn’t end up getting a full blown Rebus versus Fox and the ethics and standards division as Fox goes about ensuring Rebus doesn’t corrupt his former sidekick we’ve got an interesting and intriguing developing subplot for future instalments.

As far as this episode is concerned, the latest disappearance on the A9, the road where Sally Hazlitt was last seen twelve years earlier, has her mother Nina, perpetually ready to hear the worst about her daughter's disappearance, reminding the cold case department of her suspicion that the disappearances of a string of young women can be attributed to a serial killer on the loose.

The problem with the theory lies in an absence of sightings, bodies and viable suspects, which explains an ongoing reluctance to take Nina’s theory seriously, until she heads in to have another go and finds the police station almost deserted, except for one John Rebus, who has never been one to shy away from apparently lost causes.

Like his former colleagues Rebus is initially unconvinced, but goes as far as requesting the records concerning the cold cases, and comes to the conclusion that, yes, there may be a connection and contacts his former protégée Siobhan Clarke, now a Detective Inspector in the missing persons department investigating the latest disappearance.


© Ian Hughes 2012