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In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin

First published in the UK in 2018; published by Little, Brown and Company on December 31, 2018

A dead body in the trunk of a car, ankles handcuffed together, brings John Rebus out of retirement (again). In 2006, he investigated the disappearance of private investigator Stuart Bloom. Rebus and the other assigned police detectives caught quite a bit of flack for botching the investigation. The dead body that has just been discovered is Bloom’s. Siobhan Clarke is assigned to the team that investigates Bloom’s death. Malcolm Fox is assigned to examine the adequacy of the original investigation.

Ian Rankin offers a full plate of suspects. Two business rivals, one of whom hired Bloom to investigate the other, are primary suspects. Bloom’s lover was the son of a Glasgow police detective. The lover and his father are both suspects. And then there are some gangsters and some people who hung out at a gay club and an overlapping group of people who were part of the local movie industry, Bloom having appeared as an extra in a low-budget horror film before he disappeared.

A couple of cops who investigated Bloom’s disappearance later investigated unfounded complaints against Clarke. One of those cops was employed after hours by one of the business rivals. Their presence contributes to personality clashes and increases the number of suspects who might have done in Bloom.

A subplot involves nuisance calls to Clarke that she assumes are related to a case that she recently closed. Rebus begins nosing into a closed murder investigation as a result of those calls. What he finds leads to a challenging question — when is justice best served by allowing the truth about a crime to remain concealed?

Rebus is interesting because, when he was still on the force, his approach to law enforcement was unorthodox. He got results, but by modern standards, his habit of trading favors with criminals and of protecting his friends is considered bad form. Of course, the true bad guys in this story (apart from the person who killed Bloom) are the dirty cops who hypocritically investigate other cops while covering up their own transgressions. They make Rebus look good by comparison.

The plot is intricate, as a Rankin fan would expect. Everything ties together by the end in ways that make sense. That’s become uncommon in the modern world of crime novels. Rankin also avoids chase scenes and preposterous coincidences and the other pitfalls that mar most of today's thrillers. His technique is to create a mystery and allow the characters he has crafted so carefully over the years to go about their business. Each novel adds a bit of character development (this one suggests the possibility of a romance between Fox and Tess Leighton) while allowing the reader to enjoy the interaction of characters who remain fond of each other, no matter how infuriated at each other they might become.


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