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From Barnes & NobleRough Times for Inspector Rebus
The dead souls who parade through the pages of Ian Rankin's latest novel -- his 12th in the long-running series featuring Chief Inspector John Rebus of the Edinburgh CID -- assume a wide variety of forms. Some are ghosts, specters of murder investigations past and present. Some are criminals: murderers, pedophiles, moral bankrupts of every sort. And one -- at least potentially -- is Rebus himself, who has come dangerously close to losing his ethical bearings and becoming like the people he is paid to hunt down.
Dead Souls opens at a particularly vulnerable moment in Rebus's perpetually disordered life. He is still mourning the recent death of his friend and mentor, Jack Morton. His daughter Sammy, product of a marriage that has long since ended in divorce, is crippled and confined to a wheelchair, the victim of a hit-and-run driver whose actual target had been Rebus himself. He is drinking more than he should and alienating his superiors, his fellow officers, and his current live-in lover, the aptly named Patience Aitken. These various personal crises form the emotional backdrop against which Rankin skillfully deploys a complex, ultimately interconnected series of criminal investigations.
The first of the novel's numerous narrative threads concerns the suicide of an up-and-coming Edinburgh policeman named Jim Margolies, who inexplicably leaps from the top of a local landmark called Salisbury Crag. A second, apparently unrelated thread concerns the fate of a recently released pedophile named Darren Rough. Darren is attempting to live a quiet, anonymous life in an Edinburgh housing project called Greenfield when he is "outed" to a local newspaper by John Rebus. This pointlessly vindictive action inflames the community and results, inevitably, in violence. Darren's presence in Edinburgh is directly connected to another of the novel's central narrative threads: the Shiellion case, a highly publicized affair in which the adult guardians of a church-sponsored children's home stand accused of the long-term, systematic abuse of the children under their care.
All of this is further complicated by two additional factors. In the first of these, Rebus receives a phone call from Janice Mee, a former high school flame whose 19-year-old son has just gone missing. Rebus's subsequent involvement with Janice stirs up long-buried memories and tantalizes him with images of paths he might have taken. The second complication results from the unexpected arrival of Cary Oakes, a convicted serial killer who has just completed a 15-year sentence in the American prison system. Oakes has returned home to Edinburgh to settle some old scores and to engage the locals -- Rebus among them -- in a series of sadistic games. His various manipulations reach into every corner of this complicated book, radically affecting the lives and relationships of many of its central characters.
Dead Souls is neither a simple narrative nor a neatly constructed one. It is, rather, a kitchen sink sort of novel whose many competing story lines interrupt and alternate with one another, crossing and recrossing endlessly as they slowly begin to establish some unforeseen connections. By the same token, Rankin offers relatively little in the way of easy resolutions or traditional narrative closure. By the end of this book, a number of relationships and central plot elements remain unresolved, and justice itself is partially, imperfectly, served. Art, in this case, deliberately imitates life.
Still, Dead Souls does provide its readers with a large number of compensating satisfactions. It is a dark, often powerful narrative that brings a corner of contemporary Scotland to vivid life, offering us a gallery of closely observed characters from all across the social and economic spectrum. Its central figure, John Rebus, is sometimes admirable, sometimes callous and cruel. But he is always believable, always recognizably human.
In addition, Rankin has much to say about the long-term effects of abuse, sexual and otherwise; about the peculiar pathology of the criminal mind; about the universal fragility of human relationships; and about the gradual, painful poisoning of the individual spirit. Dead Souls is an honest, deeply felt novel with a great deal of cumulative power. It is well worth your time and attention and comes highly recommended to anyone with an interest in ambitious, wide-ranging crime fiction that tests the limits of the form.