Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Review: 'Rather Be the Devil (Inspector Rebus #21)' by Ian Rankin

I love me some crime, I love me some mystery! And when it all happens in Scotland you can be sure I'm right there for it. I haven't read a crime novel in a while, happily escaping to different fantasy worlds, but I felt a need for something more down to earth, more urgent. So when I saw Ian Ranking's Rather Be the Devil and realised I actually hadn't read any Rankin in forever, I knew it was time to dip my toes into his Inspector Rebus series. Thanks to Little, Brown and Company, and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 31/01/2017
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

Detective Inspector John Rebus investigates a cold case that has turned red hot once again.
John Rebus, as incapable of settling into his retirement as he is of playing by the rules, investigates a cold case from the 1970s involving a gorgeous and wealthy female socialite who was found dead in a bedroom at one of Edinburgh's most luxurious hotels. No one was ever found guilty, but the scandalous circumstances of the murder have kept the town talking for over forty years. Now, Rebus has his own reasons to investigate, but his inquiries quickly make him some very dangerous and powerful enemies who will stop at nothing to ensure that the case remains unsolved and the gossip falls on deaf ears.
It is fascinating how crime novels and crime series work. On the one hand they are all separate novels, with different plots, different criminals, and even, occasionally, a different cast of supporting characters. On the other hand, they are all linked, each novel works of the other, picks up minor themes from previous novels or sets up storylines for the next few. This beautiful balance means that, like me in this case, you can pick up the 21st novel in a series and not feel like you're playing catch-up constantly. The characters are introduced in a way that feels like you're not missing any information and yet it also doesn't feel as if readers of the previous books would be bored by the rehashing of characteristics. The true genius, for me, of crime fiction series lies in how the authors are able to tell the reader so much with so few words. You settle into the story and you're there, whether it's the first book in the series or the twentieth. Occasionally the more intricate details of crime novels do go over the readers' heads though, when different departments get involved, when it comes to the intricate details of international money laundering, or when obscure abbreviations get used. But that is part of the pleasure as well, getting to disappear into a different world again.

Rather Be the Devil, and the whole Inspector Rebus series I assume, is set in Edinburgh in Scotland, UK. For me personally this was a major plus because I got to revisit some of the areas I spent time in during my MA. Although this may not be the case for everyone, it does bring me to a larger point for Rather Be the Devil. Unlike some crime or detective novels which try to always top themselves, make everything bigger, the good ones find their places and stick to them. The team around Rebus is noticeably comfortable in their area, it comes as no surprise they know people, know bars, know shortcuts and are suspicious of outsiders. It gives the novel, and hopefully the whole series, a sense of being settled, as well as a sense of realism. The same can be said for the interactions between the cast of characters. Personally I had never read a crime novel in which the main character is actually retired and shouldn't technically be part of the plot at all. Rankin makes this something of an in-joke, very aware Rebus should probably not be investigating anyone, let alone kicking in doors. His unwillingness to truly retire, to face the truths of his age and to let the younger ones take over feels very real. The concern of the other characters for Rebus, combined with their understandable focus on their own lives and careers, gives a sense of familiarity between them which Rankin

Although I haven't read Rankin for a very long time, I fell into the rhythm of his writing very quickly. It is straight to the point, without too many frills. Rankin has an eye for mannerisms, for the ticks people can't quite hide, and for ending a chapter or paragraph on a cliffhanger. There is also humour to be found in the novel, bringing in a few light moments. Although I enjoyed Rankin's writing, it took me almost half the book to truly get into the plot. I was happy with the characters, with the setting, with the writing, and yet the plot took a very long time to truly get underway. Split up into a chapter a day, Rather Be the Devil follows most of the main characters as they journey through Edinburgh either trying to find a criminal or trying not be found. Old cases link up to new ones, old rivalries come to play and new ones begin, and yet it feels a little bit still. However, once the half point is reached, Rather Be the Devil definitely picks up and becomes very exciting.

I give this novel...

3 Universes!

I enjoyed reading Rather Be the Devil, especially once Rankin gets into the groove of his own plot. The characters are interesting and the crime relatively gripping. When you're a dedicated reader of the Inspector Rebus series then Rather Be the Devil will be right up your alley, but for seasoned crime readers it will also be a fun read.


  1. oh i haven't read rankin either, sounds awfully fun though for a crime

    1. There is definitely fun in this book, the characters can be delightfully snarky. But as I mentioned in the review, the novel and plot take a while to get into their swing! Do let me know what you think of it if you give it a try. Thanks for commenting :)

  2. I've read the first couple of this series and enjoyed them, but I haven't decided whether I'll continue or not. I really like the idea of a retired Rebus, but I can't bring myself to jump to the end of the series.. :)

    I really love how Rebus ages in real time, though, especially since the series has spanned thirty years now.