A Song for the Dark Times by Ian Rankin

Today it is my pleasure to share my thoughts on the brand new Rebus novel from Ian Rankin, A Song For The Dark Times. As someone who took what pretty much amounted to a seventeen year reading hiatus, I came exceedingly late to the Rebus series and have been dipping in and out in an attempt to catch up over the past few years. Now Rebus may well be showing his age these days but it doesn’t mean the stories are any less exciting. My thanks to publisher Orion for the advance copy of the book via Netgalley. The book is released tomorrow and for those who don’t yet now, here’s what it’s all about:

Source: Netgalley

About the Book

‘He’s gone…’

When his daughter Samantha calls in the dead of night, John Rebus knows it’s not good news. Her husband has been missing for two days.

Rebus fears the worst – and knows from his lifetime in the police that his daughter will be the prime suspect.

He wasn’t the best father – the job always came first – but now his daughter needs him more than ever. But is he going as a father or a detective?

As he leaves at dawn to drive to the windswept coast – and a small town with big secrets – he wonders whether this might be the first time in his life where the truth is the one thing he doesn’t want to find…

My Thoughts

There is something very reassuring about delving back into the world of John Rebus and Siobhan Clarke. Whilst things on the home front may be all change, and Rebus’ health certainly isn’t getting better, you know that, as stubborn as he is, he won’t let that get in the way of solving a good mystery. This is never more true than when the mystery involves his own family and when he gets that call from his daughter, Samantha, early on in the book, you know there is nothing that will stop him from making the long drive north to help her. It’s his instinct as a father, but more so as the Detective who cannot take a step back, the reason we all love him as a character in the first place.

The story is actually divided between his daughter’s new adopted home of Naver, a remote village in the far north of Scotland, and Edinburgh where Clarke, Fox and the folks in CID are investigating the murder of. Saudi student that may, or may not, be racially, or perhaps politically, motivated. It takes the Detectives into a murky world of property development, wealthy investors, battles over land ownership and development and within the sights of a certain Big Ger Cafferty. Rebus may be out of town but that won’t stop Big Ger toying with the police, especially when it is to his financial benefit. The way in which Big Ger is brought into the story is very carefully and cleverly done, the potential from what happens certainly makes for an intriguing opening for the next book in the series.

Rebus’ half of the story is intriguing. I loved the way in which Ian Rankin has explored the internal conflict of Rebus the father verses Rebus the Detective. The man who is driven largely by his gut knows that sometimes the simplest explanation is actually the truth, but seeing his struggles when it comes to suspecting his daughter really felt authentic, and knowing the way in which duty always came before his commitment to his family, the whole investigation really played to this part of his character. And yet … he was never ready to give up on Samantha, even if he couldn’t always voice his feelings in the way she needed. In that way the book stayed very true to the Rebus we know and love. Well, that and his innate ability to rub up the investigating Detective, the local police and some of the townsfolk, the wrong way without breaking a sweat. He’s lost none of his charm with age.

There is a part of the story rooted in fact, even if the village of Naver, where most of Rebus’s story takes place, is entirely fictional. Ian Rankin gives us a kind of history lesson, with part of the story leading him to a disused Internment Camp from World War II , many of which were dotted across Scotland, and which held prisoners of war up until the end of the conflict. Samantha’s partner, Keith, was researching one such camp at the time of his disappearance and hearing Rebus go back over the interviews that Keith had with some of the people who worked, or even lived, in the camp serves as a perfectly timed reminder of our history, both the good and bad, especially in the 75th anniversary year of the Victory in Europe. Much like in Europe, not every prisoner housed in these camps was a true enemy, and whilst Camp 1033 may not exist, there were many camps just like it that did and the stories of the survivors of that time are fascinating, even as fiction, something that would certainly appeal to history buffs.

Now there may not be as much action in this book as in earlier books in the series, but it doesn’t mean that Rebus can’t find himself in a spot of bother now and again. Even his old Saab can escape the wrath of the locals as they try to prevent him finding the truth. Things are perhaps a touch more sedate in Edinburgh, if you discount the regular Brillo walks that Clarke is subjected to in Rebus’ absence. There is no less of the tension though, especially as Big Ger insinuates himself into the action and Clarke and Fox chase down the clues to find a killer. There is certainly no end of suspects in the murder as they dig further into the victim’s past and with a very clever back and forth between their case and Rebus’ investigation, you are faced with many potential motives for what happens at either end of the A9.

I really enjoyed this book, especially the historical angle and the brilliant way in which the author pulled the two stories together. With the usual banter between the characters, Rebus’ legendary charm (?) in play and such perfect description of setting that whether in the heart of the city or the wilds of the Northern Scottish coastline, you could really feel as though you were there. The author managed to keep perpetrators hidden in plain sight and keep the tension building right to the end, whilst still pulling in some perfectly pitched tender moments between Rebus and Samantha. Well, as tender as Rebus gets anyway. And then that ending, leaving a huge question mark hanging over everything. But by ‘eck. I’m looking forward to the next book now.

About the Author

Born in the Kingdom of Fife in 1960, Ian Rankin graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1982, and then spent three years writing novels when he was supposed to be working towards a PhD in Scottish Literature. His first Rebus novel was published in 1987, and the Rebus books are now translated into thirty-six languages and are bestsellers worldwide.

Ian Rankin has been elected a Hawthornden Fellow, and is also a past winner of the Chandler-Fulbright Award. He is the recipient of four Crime Writers’ Association Dagger Awards including the prestigious Diamond Dagger in 2005. In 2004, Ian won America’s celebrated Edgar Award for Resurrection Men. He has also been shortlisted for the Anthony Award in the USA, won Denmark’s Palle Rosenkrantz Prize, the French Grand Prix du Roman Noir and the Deutscher Krimipreis. Ian Rankin is also the recipient of honorary degrees from the universities of Abertay, St Andrews, Edinburgh, Hull, the Open University and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

A contributor to BBC2’s Newsnight Review, he also presented his own TV series, Ian Rankin’s Evil Thoughts. Rankin is a number one bestseller in the UK and has received the OBE for services to literature, opting to receive the prize in his home city of Edinburgh, where he lives with his wife and two sons.

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