In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin: A review

John Rebus is now pushing 70 and has been retired from Scotland's Lothian and Borders Police for several years. He's been retired so long that the Lothian and Borders Police no longer exists; it's now Police Scotland. But all of his former colleagues are now a part of this "new" police force, and it's not really true that Rebus is retired. Being a detective is his life and he won't retire until that final exit music plays and he draws his last breath.

He keeps his hand in because his former colleagues, especially his former partner and protege, Siobhan Clarke, often call on him for his expertise regarding Edinburgh crime and criminals and for his memories regarding particular cases that he worked in the past. And that's where this story begins.

Some teenage boys messing around in the woods come upon a rusted out car hidden under brush. In the boot of the car is a skeleton. Police are called and the skeleton is finally identified as that of a private investigator named Stuart Bloom who had disappeared a few years earlier. Rebus had worked on that earlier missing person case and it had never been resolved. A review of that case now finds some slipshod work and errors that should never have happened. Malcolm Fox of internal investigations is on the case and finds that Rebus may not have been as diligent in his investigation as he should have been.

Meanwhile, Siobhan Clarke is assigned to the (now) murder case and she questions Rebus about how it all went down years before. She also asks his help on another case of hers - a young man who was convicted of unlawful killing (which he admitted to) and was sent to prison. Siobhan has misgivings about the case and wants a second opinion.

Suddenly, the old retiree has a full plate of mysteries on which to chew. He couldn't be happier.

Inevitably it seems, his reviews and his memories lead him back to his old nemesis "Big Ger" Cafferty, always the one who got away for Rebus. The two established a grudging relationship over the years, even becoming drinking buddies back in the day when Rebus was a drinker. All that, along with the constant smokes, is behind him now as he struggles with COPD. 

One of the great charms of this series has always been the believability of its characters. These are not supermen or superwomen. They are all too human, but they do take pride in the work they do and they try to do it to the best of their abilities. Even those like Rebus who never felt constrained by rules and who cut corners.

A part of that believability factor has been the aging of Rebus, which has occurred more or less in real time along with the series that began way back in 1987 with Knots and Crosses. This is the twenty-second entry in that series and, even though some books are better than others, the quality has never faded. It's interesting to see Rebus now dealing with the problems of aging and I look forward to seeing how Rankin continues the series for - it is hoped - many more years.

As for this particular book, for me it was a five-star read, near perfect. I can't think of anything about it of which I can complain.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars 


  1. It's so good to have mysteries in the back burner for the long winter nights, especially if it's part of a beloved detective series. I don't remember paying much attention to your Rebus reviews in the past but he is growing on me. It helps that you reviewed two entries in his saga in a row. :-)

    1. The books have been issued at intervals of more than a year in recent years so that may be why you don't remember too much about them. Or maybe my reviews just weren't very memorable!

    2. Your reviews are very memorable, that's why it's strange that I don't remember Rebus, but I remember Maisy Dobbs, Guido Brunetti, Inspector Gamache, Longmire, Harry Bosch...I hope I gave you the idea that I am paying attention. ;-)

  2. Good to know he still has the magic!


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