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On the eve of the first Scottish parliament in three hundred years, Edinburgh is a city rife with political passions and expectations. Queensbury House, the home of Scotland's new rulers, falls in the middle of John Rebus' turf, keeping him busy with ceremonial tasks. That quickly changes, however, when a long-dead body is discovered in a Queensbury House fireplace, a homeless man throws himself off a bridge - leaving behind a suitcase full of cash - and an up-and-coming politician is found murdered. The links ...
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On the eve of the first Scottish parliament in three hundred years, Edinburgh is a city rife with political passions and expectations. Queensbury House, the home of Scotland's new rulers, falls in the middle of John Rebus' turf, keeping him busy with ceremonial tasks. That quickly changes, however, when a long-dead body is discovered in a Queensbury House fireplace, a homeless man throws himself off a bridge - leaving behind a suitcase full of cash - and an up-and-coming politician is found murdered. The links between the three deaths lead Rebus to a confrontation with one of Edinburgh's most notorious criminals, a man he thought he'd put in jail for life. Someone's going to make a lot of money out of Scotland's independence - and, as Rebus knows all too well, where there's big money at stake, darkness gathers.
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Darkness was falling as Rebus accepted the yellow hard hatfrom his guide.
`This will be the admin block, we think,' the man said. Hisname was David Gilfillan. He worked for Historic Scotland andwas coordinating the archaeological survey of QueensberryHouse. `The original building is late seventeenth century. LordHatton was its original owner. It was extended at the end of thecentury, after coming into the ownership of the first Duke ofQueensberry. It would have been one of the grandest houses onCanongate, and only a stone's throw from Holyrood.'
All around them, demolition work was taking place. QueensberryHouse itself would be saved, but the more recent additionseither side of it were going. Workmen crouched on roofs,removing slates, tying them into bundles which were lowered byrope to waiting skips. There were enough broken slates underfootto show that the process was imperfect. Rebus adjusted hishard hat and tried to look interested in what Gilfillan wassaying.
Everyone told him that this was a sign, that he was herebecause the chiefs at the Big House had plans for him. ButRebus knew better. He knew his boss, Detective Chief Superintendent`Farmer' Watson, had put his name forward because hewas hoping to keep Rebus out of trouble and out of his hair. Itwas as simple as that. And if — if — Rebus accepted withoutcomplaining and saw the assignment through, thenmaybe — maybe — the Farmer would receive a chastened Rebus back intothe fold.
Four o'clock on a December afternoon in Edinburgh; JohnRebus with hishands in his raincoat pockets, water seeping upthrough the leather soles of his shoes. Gilfillan was wearinggreen wellies. Rebus noticed that DI Derek Linford was wearingan almost identical pair. He'd probably phoned beforehand,checked with the archaeologist what the season's fashion was.Linford was Fettes fast-stream, headed for big things at Lothianand Borders Police HQ. Late twenties, practically deskbound,and glowing from a love of the job. Already there were CIDofficers — mostly older than him — who were saying it didn't do toget on the wrong side of Derek Linford. Maybe he'd have a longmemory; maybe one day he'd be looking down on them all fromRoom 279 in the Big House.
The Big House: Police HQ on Fettes Avenue; 279: the ChiefConstable's office.
Linford had his notebook out, pen clenched between his teeth.He was listening to the lecture. He was listening.
`Forty noblemen, seven judges, generals, doctors, bankers ...'Gilfillan was letting his tour group know how importantCanongate had been at one time in the city's history. In doing so,he was pointing towards the near future. The brewery next doorto Queensberry House was due for demolition the followingspring. The parliament building itself would be built on thecleared site, directly across the road from Holyrood House, theQueen's Edinburgh residence. On the other side of HolyroodRoad, facing Queensberry House, work was progressing onDynamic Earth, a natural history theme park. Next to it, a newHQ for the city's daily newspaper was at present a giantmonkey-puzzle of steel girders. And across the road from that,another site was being cleared in preparation for the constructionof a hotel and `prestige apartment block'. Rebus wasstanding in the midst of one of the biggest building sites inEdinburgh's history.
`You'll probably all know Queensberry House as a hospital,'Gilfillan was saying. Derek Linford was nodding, but then henodded agreement with almost everything the archaeologistsaid. `Where we're standing now was used for car parking.'Rebus looked around at the mud-coloured lorries, each onebearing the simple word DEMOLITION. `But before it was ahospital it was used as a barracks. This area was the paradeground. We dug down and found evidence of a formal sunkengarden. It was probably filled in to make the parade ground.'
In what light was left, Rebus looked at Queensberry House.Its grey harled walls looked unloved. There was grass growingfrom its gutters. It was huge, yet he couldn't remember havingseen it before, though he'd driven past it probably severalhundred times in his life.
`My wife used to work here,' another of the group said, `whenit was a hospital.' The informant was Detective Sergeant JosephDickie, who was based at Gayfield Square. He'd successfullycontrived to miss two out of the first four meetings of the PPLC — thePolicing of Parliament Liaison Committee. By some arcanelaw of bureaucratic semantics, the PPLC was actually asubcommittee, one of many which had been set up to advise onsecurity matters pertaining to the Scottish Parliament. Therewere eight members of the PPLC, including one Scottish Officeofficial and a shadowy figure who claimed to be from ScotlandYard, though when Rebus had phoned the Met in London, he'dbeen unable to trace him. Rebus's bet was that the man — AlecCarmoodie — was MI5. Carmoodie wasn't here today, andneither was Peter Brent, the sharp-faced and sharper-suitedScottish Office representative. Brent, for his sins, sat on severalof the subcommittees, and had begged off today's tour with thecompelling excuse that he'd been through it twice before whenaccompanying visiting dignitaries.
Making up the party today were the three final members ofthe PPLC. DS Ellen Wylie was from C Division HQ inTorphichen Place. It didn't seem to bother her that she was theonly woman on the team. She treated it like any other task,raising good points at the meetings and asking questions towhich no one seemed to have any answers. DC Grant Hood wasfrom Rebus's own station, St Leonard's. Two of them, because StLeonard's was the closest station to the Holyrood site, and theparliament would be part of their beat. Though Rebus worked inthe same office as Hood, he didn't know him well. They'd notoften shared the same shill. But Rebus did know the lastmember of the PPLC, DI Bobby Hogan from D Division in Leith.At the first meeting, Hogan had pulled Rebus to one side.
`What the hell are we doing here?'
`I'm serving time,' Rebus had answered. `What about you?'
Hogan was scoping out the room. `Christ, man, look at them.We're Old Testament by comparison.'
Smiling now at the memory, Rebus caught Hogan's eye andwinked. Hogan shook his head almost imperceptibly. Rebusknew what he was thinking: waste of time. Almost everythingwas a waste of time for Bobby Hogan.
`If you'll follow me,' Gilfillan was saying, `we can take a lookindoors.'
Which, to Rebus's mind, really was a waste of time. Thecommittee having been set up, things had to be found for themto do. So here they were wandering through the dank interior ofQueensberry House, their way lit irregularly by unsafe-lookingstrip lights and the torch carried by Gilfillan. As they climbedthe stairwell — nobody wanted to use the lift — Rebus foundhimself paired with Joe Dickie, who asked a question he'd askedbefore.
`Put in your exes yet?' By which he meant the claim forexpenses.
`No,' Rebus admitted.
`Sooner you do, sooner they'll cough up.'
Dickie seemed to spend half his time at their meetings tottingup figures on his pad of paper. Rebus had never seen the manwrite down anything as mundane as a phrase or sentence.Dickie was late thirties, big-framed with a head like an artilleryshell stood on end. His black hair was cropped close to the skulland his eyes were as small and rounded as a china doll's. Rebushad tried the comparison out on Bobby Hogan, who'd commentedthat any doll resembling Joe Dickie would `give a bairnnightmares'.
`I'm a grown-up,' Hogan had continued, `and he still scaresme.'
Climbing the stairs, Rebus smiled again. Yes, he was glad tohave Bobby Hogan around.
`When people think of archaeology,' Gilfillan was saying, `theyalmost always see it in terms of digging down, but one of ourmost exciting finds here was in the attic. A new roof was builtover the original one, and there are traces of what looks like atower. We'd have to climb a ladder to get to it, but if anyone'sinterested ...?'
`Thank you,' a voice said. Derek Linford: Rebus knew its nasalquality only too well by now.
`Creep,' another voice close to Rebus whispered. It was BobbyHogan, bringing up the rear. A head turned: Ellen Wylie. She'dheard, and now gave what looked like the hint of a smile. Rebuslooked to Hogan, who shrugged, letting him know he thoughtWylie was all right.
`How will Queensberry House be linked to the parliamentbuilding? Will there be covered walkways?' The questions camefrom Linford again. He was out in front with Gilfillan. The pairof them had rounded a corner of the stairs, so that Rebus had tostrain to hear Gilfillan's hesitant reply.
`I don't know.'
His tone said it all: he was an archaeologist, not an architect.He was here to investigate the site's past rather than its future.He wasn't sure himself why he was giving this tour, except thatit had been asked of him. Hogan screwed up his face, lettingeveryone in the vicinity know his own feelings.
`When will the building be ready?' Grant Hood asked. An easyone: they'd all been briefed. Rebus saw what Hood was doing — tryingto console Gilfillan by putting a question he could answer.
`Construction begins in the summer,' Gilfillan obliged. `Everythingshould be up and running here by the autumn of 2001.'They were coming out on to a landing. Around them stood opendoorways, through which could be glimpsed the old hospitalwards. Walls had been gouged at, flooring removed: checks onthe fabric of the building. Rebus stared out of a window. Most ofthe workers looked to be packing up: dangerously dark now to bescrabbling over roofs. There was a summer house down there. Itwas due to be demolished, too. And a tree, drooping forlornly,surrounded by rubble. It had been planted by the Queen. Noway it could be moved or felled until she'd given her permission.According to Gilfillan, permission had now been granted; thetree would go. Maybe formal gardens would be recreated downthere, or maybe it would be a staff car park. Nobody knew. 2001seemed a ways off. Until this site was ready, the parliamentwould sit in the Church of Scotland Assembly Hall near the topof The Mound. The committee had already been on two tours ofthe Assembly Hall and its immediate vicinity. Office buildingswere being turned over to the parliament, so that the MSPscould have somewhere to work. Bobby Hogan had asked at onemeeting why they couldn't just wait for the Holyrood site to beready before, in his words, `setting up shop'. Peter Brent, thecivil servant, had stared at him aghast.
`Because Scotland needs a parliament now.'
`Funny, we've done without for three hundred years ...'
Brent had been about to object, but Rebus had butted in.`Bobby, at least they're not trying to rush the job.'
Hogan had smiled, knowing he was talking about the newlyopened Museum of Scotland. The Queen had come north for theofficial opening of the unfinished building. They'd had to hidethe scaffolding and paint tins till she'd gone.
Gilfillan was standing beside a retractable ladder, pointingupwards towards a hatch in the ceiling.
`The original roof is just up there,' he said. Derek Linfordalready had both feet on the ladder's bottom rung. `You don'tneed to go all the way,' Gilfillan continued as Linford climbed. `IfI shine the torch up ...'
But Linford had disappeared into the roof space.
`Lock the hatch and let's make a run for it,' Bobby Hogan said,smiling so they'd assume he was joking.
Ellen Wylie hunched her shoulders, `There's a real ...atmosphere in here, isn't there?'
`My wife saw a ghost,' Joe Dickie said. `Lots of people whoworked here did. A woman, she was crying. Used to sit on theend of one of the beds.'
`Maybe she was a patient who died here,' Grant Hood offered.
Gilfillan turned towards them. `I've heard that story, too. Shewas the mother of one of the servants. Her son was working herethe night the Act of Union was signed. Poor chap got himselfmurdered.'
Linford called down that he thought he could see where thesteps to the tower had been, but nobody was listening.
`Murdered?' Ellen Wylie said.
Gilfillan nodded. His torch threw weird shadows across thewalls, illuminating the slow movements of cobwebs. Linford wastrying to read some graffiti on the wall.
`There's a year written here ... 1870, I think.'
`You know Queensberry was the architect of the Act of Union?'Gilfillan was saying. He could see that he had an audience now,for the first time since the tour had begun in the brewery carpark next door. `Back in 1707. This,' he scratched a shoe over thebare floorboards, `is where Great Britain was invented. And thenight of the signing, one of the young servants was working inthe kitchen. The Duke of Queensberry was Secretary of State. Itwas his job to lead the negotiations. But he had a son, JamesDouglas, Earl of Drumlanrig. The story goes, James was off hishead ...'
Gilfillan looked up through the open hatch. `All right upthere?' he called.
`Fine. Anyone else want to take a look?'
They ignored him. Ellen Wylie repeated her question.
`He ran the servant through with a sword,' Gilfillan said, `thenroasted him in one of the kitchen fireplaces. James was sittingmunching away when he was found.'
`Dear God,' Ellen Wylie said.
`You believe this?' Bobby Hogan slid his hands into hispockets.
Gilfillan shrugged. `It's a matter of record.'
A blast of cold air seemed to rush at them from the roof space.Then a rubber-soled wellington appeared on the ladder, andDerek Linford began his slow, dusty descent. At the bottom, heremoved the pen from between his teeth.
`Interesting up there,' he said. `You really should try it. Couldbe your first and last chance.'
`Why's that then?' Bobby Hogan asked.
`I very much doubt we'll be letting tourists in here, Bobby,'Linford said. `Imagine what that would do for security.'
Hogan stepped forward so swiftly that Linford flinched. Butall Hogan did was lift a cobweb from the young man's shoulder.
`Can't have you heading back to the Big House in less thanshowroom condition, can we, son?' Hogan said. Linford ignoredhim, probably feeling that he could well afford to ignore relicslike Bobby Hogan, just as Hogan knew he had nothing to fearfrom Linford: he'd be heading for retirement long before theyounger man gained any position of real power and prominence.
`I can't see it as the powerhouse of government,' Ellen Wyliesaid, examining the water stains on the walls, the flakingplaster. `Wouldn't they have been better off knocking it downand starting again?'
`It's a listed building,' Gilfillan censured her. Wylie justshrugged. Rebus knew that nevertheless she had accomplishedher objective, by deflecting attention away from Linford andHogan. Gilfillan was off again, delving into the history of thearea: the series of wells which had been found beneath thebrewery; the slaughterhouse which used to stand nearby. Asthey headed back down the stairs, Hogan held back, tapping hiswatch, then cupping a hand to his mouth. Rebus nodded: goodidea. A drink afterwards. Jenny Ha's was a short stroll away, orthere was the Holyrood Tavern on the way back to St Leonard's.As if mind-reading, Gilfillan began talking about the Younger'sBrewery.
`Covered twenty-seven acres at one time, produced a quarterof all the beer in Scotland. Mind you, there's been an abbey atHolyrood since early in the twelfth century. Chances are theyweren't just drinking well-water.'
Through a landing window, Rebus could see that outside nighthad fallen prematurely. Scotland in winter: it was dark whenyou came to work, and dark when you went home again. Well,they'd had their little outing, gleaned nothing from it, and wouldnow be released back to their various stations until the nextmeeting. It felt like a penance because Rebus's boss had plannedit as such. Farmer Watson was on a committee himself.'Strategies for Policing in the New Scotland. Everyone called itSPINS. Committee upon committee ... it felt to Rebus as if theywere building a paper tower, enough `Policy Agendas', `Reports'and `Occasional Papers' to completely fill Queensberry House.And the more they talked, the more that got written, the furtheraway from reality they seemed to move. Queensberry House wasunreal to him, the idea of a parliament itself the dream of somemad god: `But Edinburgh is a mad god's dream/Fitful and dark...' He'd found the words at the opening to a book about the city.They were from a poem by Hugh MacDiarmid. The book itselfhad been part of his recent education, trying to understand thishome of his.
He took off his hard hat, rubbed his fingers through his hair,wondering just how much protection the yellow plastic wouldgive against a projectile falling several storeys. Gilfillan askedhim to put the hat back on until they were back at the site office.
`You might not get into trouble,' the archaeologist said, `but Iwould.'
Rebus put the helmet back on, while Hogan tutted andwagged a finger. They were back at ground level, in what Rebusguessed must have been the hospital's reception area. Therewasn't much to it. Spools of electric cable sat near the door: theoffices would need rewiring. They were going to close theHolyrood/St Mary's junction to facilitate underground cabling.Rebus, who used the route often, wasn't looking forward to thediversions. Too often these days the city seemed nothing butroadworks.
`Well,' Gilfillan was saying, opening his arms, `that's about it.If there are any questions, I'll do what I can.'
Bobby Hogan coughed into the silence. Rebus saw it as awarning to Linford. When someone had come up from London toaddress the group on security issues in the Houses of Parliament,Linford had asked so many questions the poor sod hadmissed his train south. Hogan knew this because he'd been theone who'd driven the Londoner at breakneck speed back toWaverley Station, then had had to entertain him for the rest ofthe evening before depositing him on the overnight sleeper.
Linford consulted his notebook, six pairs of eyes drilling intohim, fingers touching wristwatches.
`Well, in that case,' Gilfillan began.
`Hey! Mr Gilfillan! Are you up there?' The voice was comingfrom below. Gilfillan walked over to a doorway, called down aflight of steps.
`What is it, Marlene?'
`Come take a look.'
Gilfillan turned to look at his reluctant group. `Shall we?' Hewas already heading down. They couldn't very well leavewithout him. It was stay here, with a bare lightbulb forcompany, or head down into the basement. Derek Linford ledthe way.
They came out into a narrow hallway, rooms off to both sides,and other rooms seeming to lead from those. Rebus thought hecaught a glimpse of an electrical generator somewhere in thegloom. Voices up ahead and the shadowplay of torches. Theywalked out of the hallway and into a room lit by a single arclamp. It was pointing towards a long wall, the bottom half ofwhich had been lined with wooden tongue-and-groove paintedthe selfsame institutional cream as the plaster walls. Floorboardshad been ripped up so that for the most part they werewalking on the exposed joists, beneath which sat bare earth.The whole room smelt of damp and mould. Gilfillan and theother archaeologist, the one he'd called Marlene, were crouchedin front of this wall, examining the stonework beneath the woodpanelling. Two long curves of hewn stone, forming what seemedto Rebus like railway arches in miniature. Gilfillan turnedround, looking excited for the first time that day.
`Fireplaces,' he said. `Two of them. This must have been thekitchen.' He stood up, taking a couple of paces back. `The floorlevel's been raised at some point. We're only seeing the top halfof them.' He half-turned towards the group, reluctant to take hiseyes off the discovery. `Wonder which one the servant wasroasted in ...'
One of the fireplaces was open, the other closed off by a coupleof sections of brown corroding metal.
`What an extraordinary find,' Gilfillan said, beaming at hisyoung co-worker. She grinned back at him. It was nice to seepeople so happy in their work. Digging up the past, uncoveringsecrets ... it struck Rebus that they weren't so unlike detectives.
`Any chance of rustling us up a meal then?' Bobby Hogan said,producing a snort of laughter from Ellen Wylie. But Gilfillanwasn't paying any heed. He was standing by the closed fireplace,prying with his fingertips at the space between stonework andmetal. The sheet came away easily, Marlene helping him to liftit off and place it carefully on the floor.
`Wonder when they blocked it off?' Grant Hood asked.
Hogan tapped the metal sheet. `Doesn't look exactly prehistoric.'Gilfillan and Marlene had lifted away the second sheet. Noweveryone was staring at the revealed fireplace. Gilfillan thrusthis torch towards it, though the arc lamp gave light enough.
There could be no mistaking the desiccated corpse foranything other than what it was.
Excerpted from Set in Darkness by Ian Rankin. Copyright © 2000 by Ian Rankin. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted June 24, 2009
Having long been a Rebus fan, I had not read this one. It's as good as the others, but I did feel like I might need to join AA by the time it was over. Way too much whiskey for my tastes.
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Posted May 26, 2006
It never really got exciting at all. the most exciting parts were guy getting beaten up but that didn't last long or have a food decrption. i was only able to finish it because it was that or school work and i read only to get to good part which none came. I at some ponit just picked school work sadly.
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Posted December 9, 2008
In Queensbury House in Edinburgh, the Highlanders are pulling out their tartan colors, as the first Scottish parliament in about three centuries is to convene. To the chagrin of law enforcement officials everywhere, especially the more ambitious, the locale is right in the middle of Detective John Rebus' zone making him the liaison. <P> However, all is not well. As the restoration project continues on Queensbury House, the remains of a body are found as a fireplace is reopened. Not long afterward, an apparent suicide occurs near the site of the first person. Finally, a third corpse of a politician lies murdered in the outside gardens. On the surface the three dead people seem to not have a connecting thread except the locale. However, Rebus concludes tremendous profits can be made if you are on the right side of the new Scottish political power, but who would murder to fix the odds in their favor. <P> The John Rebus Scottish police procedurals are some of the best detective novels of the past decade. The latest tale, SET IN DARKNESS, brings to life insight into the Scottish parliament and a flavor for modern day Edinburgh. The murder mystery is intelligent and entertaining, and the characters, especially Rebus, retain that feeling of genuineness while dealing with power-struggles, and intrigue. The roles of several reoccurring secondary players fade into the backdrop this time around. Rebus retains his freshness inside an exciting police procedural. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 13, 2009
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