This devil lurked among the details

“Rather Be the Devil” by Ian Rankin (Little, Brown, 311 pages, $27).

Scottish crime novelist Ian Rankin found a way to bring his character, the former detective inspector John Rebus, out of retirement some years ago. In this series, Rebus was aging in real time. When he reached mandatory retirement age for the Edinburgh police, Rankin felt obligated to maroon Rebus out in the heather. The series went on hiatus.

While Rebus was resting, Rankin published a couple of books featuring Malcolm Fox, an investigator for the department of internal affairs — known in Scotland as “the complaints.” When the Rebus series was revived it was because our graying sleuth was brought back to look into some very cold cases. Malcolm Fox has now been incorporated into the Rebus series. His role has also been changing.

As the latest Rebus book “Rather Be the Devil” starts, Fox is now a police detective. In a previous book Fox was still with internal affairs and he was suspicious of Rebus for meeting with the long-time Edinburgh crime boss “Big Ger” Cafferty. Like Rebus, Cafferty has supposedly retired, but he too is having a difficult time accepting a diminished role.

Cafferty is being boldly supplanted by an aggressive young hoodlum named Darryl Christie. Early on in the novel Christie receives a severe beating from unknown parties. He’s in the hospital. Everybody is wondering who did it. Cafferty resents the interloper Christie. Did he order that beating to send Christie a message?

Then there’s the matter of a cold case. Rebus is looking into a murder that took place decades ago. A socialite was found dead in her luxury hotel room. At the time, she had been rumored to be engaged in some shenanigans that probably angered her husband. She was known to be cavorting with a famous rock star. The police got nowhere with the case. It remains unsolved.

Which provides Rebus with an opportunity to hoist up metaphorical rocks to look beneath them and see what might scurry out. The aging rock star is still around. Rebus was a fan. He is thrilled to have an excuse to meet his former idol. It is amusing to observe Rebus shifting between the roles of dogged interrogator and breathless fan boy.

The massive shadow of “Big Ger” Cafferty looms over all this. As Rebus delves into the details of that long-ago murder he discovers that the young Cafferty was, surprise, in the vicinity when the homicide took place.

Malcolm Fox is playing games with his colleague Siobhan Clarke. She and Fox were once a couple — Rebus was her mentor before retiring. She’s wondering what Fox is doing and who he’s actually working for. Rebus is crankier than normal — he has stopped smoking and curtailed his drinking.

Ian Rankin always keeps his readers guessing. He has told me that he usually doesn’t know how his stories will end until he gets there himself. Perhaps that’s why he’s the second most famous crime writer to come out of Edinburgh. He concedes that the most famous one will always be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the inventor of Sherlock Holmes.

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