Even Dogs in the Wild - Ian Rankin

Fans of Ian Rankin's Rebus series familiar with the authors' use of song titles for his books will undoubtedly have already been scouring iTunes or YouTube to determine where the new one comes from. 'Even Dogs in the Wild' by the Associates is a little bit of an obscure choice, but you can be sure it has resonance and relevance to the new novel on a number of levels. Lyrically (in as much as anyone could fully understand them from Billy Mackenzie's soft pitched crooning), in terms of the mood it creates and the fact that the Associates were a Scottish band are all important, but primarily the song is a good choice for the period it evokes and the 'associations' we now have of that time. Time weighs heavily on Even Dogs in the Wild, Rankin's first post-retirement Rebus book.

Dogs also have a minor role to play in the novel as a running theme, but there are also a lot of dog metaphors that you could apply to the situation in this new Rebus novel as well, involving as it does a police detective now in retirement and an old Edinburgh gangster contemplating/dreading handing over the reins of power to a new generation of criminals. 'Let sleeping dogs lie', 'You can't teach an old dog new tricks', it's 'dog eat dog' now in the the circles where both men used to be operative. So where does an old detective go when he's been put out to pasture? Well, you wouldn't say the doleful Rebus is exactly happy about being asked to help out in a "consultative" capacity, but it sure beats the alternatives of settling into retirement.

There's a big incentive here and, since they aren't even offering to pay him for his services, it's not financial. Like any retired officer, Rebus is concerned that his city is going to go to hell without him on the job, and he mightn't be far wrong. A couple of notorious Glasgow gangsters have shown up on his old turf, ostensibly looking for a missing haulier, but they are throwing a little too much weight around for the Edinburgh police's liking. Or for the liking of Big Ger Cafferty, the Edinburgh crime lord who is getting a bit too old to have to deal with warning shots being fired through his window.

The joint Glasgow/Edinburgh police operation to keep an eye on the volatile gangland situation is however not Rebus's immediate concern. He's been called in for his experience and ability to get a little more information from Cafferty about a number of connected murders in the city that have been preceded by warning notes. While there isn't any obvious connection between the two investigations it does place Cafferty in a vulnerable position, and the consequences of an upheaval in Edinburgh over the vacuum he might leave behind are unpredictable to say the least.

There's very much a 'No Country for Old Men'-like air of gloom-laden despair for the state of the world about Even Dogs in the Wild, and for the impotent efforts of working within the law to fight against the pervasive and greater forces of evil and corruption. John Rebus thankfully has a far more pragmatic view of working within those limitations, and Rankin likewise has a far more open and wider historical perspective on the presence of evil in the world. Neither have entirely lost faith in the ability of humanity to delve into those dark places and face up to the challenges they represent.

The method in Even Dogs in the Wild is still defiantly old-school. Rankin makes the occasional reference to cyber-criminality and the use of new technology to aid police detection, but sometimes good old-fashioned legwork, experience and personal connections are the key to dealing with problems that predate the digital age and still have resonance today. Straightforward, unshowy and dialogue-driven, Rankin's old-school writing is likewise highly effective, finding a dark subject, establishing connections and running themes, and allowing the humanity of his characters - primarily in the creation of Rebus, but also in the wider cast of the Edinburgh setting - to confront those demons by overcoming demons of their own. There's life in the old dog yet.

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