The Black Book

Friday, 28 May 2010

Issues involving the on-going difficulty of maintaining personal relationships when you're a semi-obsessive sleuth working long and irregular hours run right through the series, but the interpersonal themes are a key component of the plot line of the fifth Rebus novel. 1993's The Black Book introduces key character Siobhan Clarke and brings Big Ger, Morris Gerald Cafferty, who's been an incidental character up to this point in the series, to the forefront as Rebus' bete noir.

On the personal front, there's the on-going attempt to maintain the relationship with new female interest Doctor Patience Aitken, complicated by the fact that he's effectively moved in with her and has leased his flat to a group of students. That becomes an issue when, first, Rebus' brother Michael reappears on the scene, seeking accommodation.

He ends up in the box room at the flat, which means that Rebus, locked out of Patience's place after failing to arrive for dinner, ends up sleeping on his own sofa for a spell. That happens after an unexpected encounter with an old Army acquaintance, the dodgy Deek Torrance, who can get his hands on anything from a shag to a shooter.

These things play out against a background where Operation Moneybags is aimed at taking down one of 'Big Ger' Cafferty's money-lenders and Rebus's colleague Brian Holmes is in a coma after being attacked in the carpark of the Elvis-themed Heartbreak Cafe. Investigating the attack, Rebus interviews restaurant owner Eddie Ringan, Eddie's gay and business partner Pat Calder, and Brian's girlfriend, Nell Stapleton who mentions Holmes' notebook, suggesting that something in it prompted the attack.

One particular entry in the eponymous Black Book sparks Rebus' interest, a cryptic shorthand reference to a poker game on the night of the fire that burned down the Central Hotel five years ago. An unidentified body was found in the ruins, and the autopsy reveals a shot through the heart rather than the fire as the cause of death, and that the victim had suffered a broken arm at some point in time.

Piecing these things together takes time when you're supposed to be doing something else, but a glance at the list of those who were on the premises when the hotel burned down reveals someone Rebus knows well enough to chase down details in the form of the elderly Matthew Vanderhyde who may be blind but was at least on the premises.

As it turns out Vanderhyde was there to have a quiet word with 'Black Aengus' Gibson, heir to the Gibson brewery and subsequently reformed wild man. At the time 'Black Aengus' was in full wild man mode, though his family's influence has managed to remove his name from the official record of the incident.

Then, when Rebus discusses the matter with the newly-arrived Siobhan Clarke, who's been reading around the case, comes up with Tam and Eck Robertson, the 'Bru-head Brothers', who disappeared around the time of the fire and match part of the shorthand reference. Before they disappeared they were working for Big Ger, which suggests that Cafferty may have been there as well.

Sniffing around Big Ger, however, has its dangers. With the possibility of the attack on Holmes being related to the case, after Michael Rebus is found hanging by his legs from the Forth Rail Bridge and an attack on Rebus himself, her decides he needs protection, and when Holmes regains consciousness he's quick to confirm Rebus' suspicions and inform him that the source of the information was restaurant owner Ringan, who was was moonlighting at the Central.

From there things move rather swiftly, with the regulation twists and turns, apparent dead ends and although Rebus manages to put things together there's a nasty sting in the tail when the hand gun he buys for protection turns out to be the weapon used to kill the previously unidentified corpse from the fire.

All in all, with matters seemingly sorted there's the problem of managing a conviction, and when you look at it, failure to do so, given the circumstances in this story will be enough to fuel Rebus' on-going pursuit of Big Ger well into the future.

© Ian Hughes 2012