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Set in Darkness


Set in Darkness

I have always had a warm spot in my heart and a large space on my
shelves devoted to mystery writers from the British Isles. There's
something unique about the perspective they bring to the settings
and characters --- a gray, misty quality that prickles with
suspense and sharpens every scene. Unlike many American
contemporaries who favor the more gruesome and bizarre to tantalize
an audience, these classic mysteries are terse by comparison, yet
offer readers a far more literary narrative. Ian Rankin is now the
newest addition to my shelf of special authors who deliver
magnificent drama via the written page.

SET IN DARKNESS is Rankin's latest novel in his Inspector Rebus
series and a remarkable purview of the darker side to humanity.
Rebus is a dedicated Scottish policeman, streetwise, methodical and
persistent. But like all those he encounters, his has demons of his
own to battle: a failed marriage, loneliness, alcoholism. He knows
his way around the seedy bars and alleys of Edinburgh's underworld,
which is exactly where this investigation leads him in his search
for a savage murderer.

The novel opens with the discovery of a body buried in Queensbury
House, an old historic building being renovated to accommodate the
Scottish parliament. Without any clues to the identity of the
deceased, this case takes a low priority until a second murder
occurs on the very same site. Roddy Grieve, a wealthy and ambitious
Labour Party candidate for the legislature, is found bludgeoned to
death, and Rebus is assigned to assist Derek Linford in this higher
profile murder. Linford has ambitions of his own within Scottish
law enforcement; and, as you might suspect, he and Rebus are
opposite ends of the compass. Tactless, pompous and the golden boy
of the police department hierarchy, Linford is placed in charge of
the investigation, which he is obviously too inexperienced to
handle. Rebus, on the other hand, organizes an efficient team of
detectives and begins a methodic search for a motive that would
bind these murders together. When the apparent suicide of a
homeless man with an amazingly large bank account falls in the lap
of his former protegee, Siobahn Clarke, she finds herself partnered
once again with Rebus, as the interlocking theory widens to include
all three deaths.

One of the more melancholic aspects to many of the characters in
Rankin's SET IN DARKNESS is their shared loneliness. Rebus misses
his daughter and has virtually no social life, choosing to spend
his time comforted by the bottle rather than seek companionship
beyond the occasional barstool acquaintance. Siobahn is a loner as
well, not necessarily by choice; but she has found that police work
and personal relationships are often akin to mixing oil and water.
Despite their age difference, Rebus and Siobahn have a history
together, and Rankin explores the possibilities of their
relationship, leaving little doubt that these two will continue to
cross paths in the future. Adding another dimension to this
complexity of relationships is Derek Linford, the stereotypical
jerk --- self-absorbed, with enough social incorrectness to inflame
the entire female population --- yet there's an even darker twist
to be discovered in his romantic pursuit of Siobahn Clarke.

Grounded in the traditional method of skillful plotting, Rankin
leads readers in several directions at once. He offers up any
number of suspects from the Grieve's dysfunctional family,
including the vampish sister, the long-lost brother, and the
charming widow who decides to run for the legislature herself.
Simultaneously, Rankin tosses in a series of rape cases involving a
nasty duo that coincidentally crosses paths with the investigators
as their murder cases progress. That the rapist's identity is not
altogether camouflaged is not a disappointment but, rather, an
insightful portrayal of how evil can be fostered through mutual
association. Anyone who has read Truman Capote's IN COLD BLOOD will
recognize this chilling premise of aberrant behavior feeding
aberrant behavior.

As if this novel didn't have enough twists already; Big Ger
Cafferty, a villain from a previous Rebus novel, reenters the
inspector's life, adding further menace to an already dangerous
investigation. Juggling three cases, appeasing his superiors,
protecting Siobahn and watching his own back make SET IN DARKNESS
electrified with suspense. With Rankin's superb characterizations
and historic backdrops, this masterful writer takes his place
alongside the best in the genre of crime fiction today.

Reviewed by Ann Bruns ( on January 23, 2011

Set in Darkness
by Ian Rankin

  • Publication Date: November 19, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 0312977891
  • ISBN-13: 9780312977894