If you like gritty police procedurals featuring no nonsense tough cops or if you love Scotland, Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin (Hachette Book Company, paperback $15.99) is for you. This is the twenty-first detective John Rebus novel set in Edenborough, although the retired Rebus does not make an appearance until several pages in, as a consulting detective, who can’t resist Sherlock Holmes jokes.
In the last few books Rankin has introduced two new characters, Detective Inspectors Malcom Fox and Shiv Clarke. As the book begins, Malcolm and Shiv are on different assignments although they appear to be something of an item (sorry no romance or sex scenes anywhere in the book, though you get the impression she wishes for more from Malcolm). Shiv is tasked the investigation of the murder of a retired judge who was killed by a burglar while sitting in his library. Everything looks like a routine break-in gone bad until a threating note is found in the judge’s wallet suggesting he may have been stalked by the killer.
Just as these investigations get rolling, an Edenborough gangster, teetering on the edge of retirement, Big Ger Cafferty, is shot at while in his home. Shiv gets this assignment also and discovers the gangster won’t talk to anyone on the force except — enter John Rebus, recently retired but always pursuing law and order. Despite police pleas for cooperation, Cafferty wants to handle this attempt on his life himself, hiring body guards and threating retribution against other thugs who might have been responsible. Even if he gets the wrong guy, Cafferty has to show he’s still a player.
Shiv learns that a recent lottery winner was also murdered in his home and apparently nothing was taken. Both the judge and the lottery winner were bludgeoned to death and although they had nothing in common, Shiv’s antenna goes up. She gets permission from her boss to bring Rebus into both investigations. Rebus is not at all hesitant to use old contacts and tough guy attitude with the Edenborough criminal element to “further his inquiries.”
A psychological undercurrent is present in both the good guys and the bad. Sons and fathers—growing distant, burdened with regret and eventually dealing with death. Perhaps it’s a distraction. Or maybe a thoughtful addition. There’s even an abandoned dog to generate sympathy—hence the title.
Rankin is a master plotter and gradually weaves all this together, along with a bent undercover officer and a female member of the Glasgow squad who literally tries to emasculate Fox. In the end Rebus catches a somewhat sympathetic villain who was himself a victim and Rebus is tempted to let him escape. While it’s not a heart-stopping page turner, the strong plot masterfully woven together with abrupt changes in viewpoint makes this an A-.