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Home » Books & writing

Book Review: STANDING IN ANOTHER MAN’S GRAVE by Ian Rankin

Submitted by on January 23, 2013 – 2:50 am 5 Comments

I finally jumped on the Inspector Rebus bandwagon after friends (I’m looking at you, Jenn aka The Picky Girl) have long pulled it alongside and tried to heave me on board. It wasn’t a matter of disinterest on my part but lack of time. Then the generous people at Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur sent me Ian Rankin’s latest novel featuring Rebus, Standing in Another Man’s Grave. I read the first page, then kept going, and finished the novel in two sittings.

Five years after he retired, Rebus is working as a civilian for the cold case squad. He meets Nina Hazlitt, who insists that her daughter’s disappearance in 1999 is connected to several other missing young women, including one who recently disappeared. Rebus is Nina’s sole sympathetic ear, and as he probes the matter, he finds she might be on to something.

But it’s hard to make progress when he’s up against a supervisor more interested in climbing the bureaucratic ladder than clearing cases, and the internal affairs investigator named Matthew Fox who’s hell-bent on nailing Rebus for his unconventional methods. Rebus also has to contend with a couple of mob bosses, all while attempting to not destroy the career of his partner, Siobhan Clarke.

Rebus is a winning protagonist, with a quick wit, sharp eye, and irreverence for anyone he deems a moron. Underneath Rebus’s defiance, though, are melancholy reflections on mortality (the title is something he mishears in a song’s lyrics). He’s aware of his limitations, but still determined to operate on his terms.

It’s interesting how Fox, who headlined Rankin’s The Complainants and The Impossible Dead, is supposedly the bad guy here, but the chapters told from his point of view manage to make us almost sympathetic to Fox’s cause. Rebus can be a loose cannon, and Rankin does a nice job of showing how these two flawed men are possibly more alike than they realize.

The one issue I have is with the ending. **Spoiler**

 

Rankin doesn’t explain the murderer’s motives, having Rebus and Clarke simply write off the person as a psychopath. This is too easy. While in real life we often don’t get insight into a killer’s mind, in fiction it’s possible to answer the whys, if only to create a sense of logic in a chaotic world, which is one of the reasons I think crime fiction is so attractive for some readers.

The killer’s actions don’t need to be explained by Rebus and Clarke—they’re not psychologists—or even by the killer. What I found lacking was how the cops don’t even seem concerned about the reasons as long as the perp is in custody. The “psychopath” label is supposed to explain everything, but if we just accept that without any desire for a deeper understanding of the roots of violence, it feels like we’re already standing in humanity’s grave.

**End of spoiler**

That quibble aside, I would follow Rebus and his trusty old car on future adventures, and even look into his old cases to see how he got here.

Nerd verdict: Rebus alive and kicking in Grave

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5 Comments »

  • YEA! You read it. I did not read the review because I want to go into it with no expectations, but I had to stop by and comment. I love Rebus. I finally got my dad hooked, too, so now we can share the love. 🙂

  • Jen Forbus says:

    **SPOILER** We talked about this a bit and I had a different reaction to the end. I dislike when authors try to put a motive to a serial killer. If we say something like, “he was abused as a kid,” well there are all kinds of people who are abused as kids who don’t become serial killers. There’s something wrong in the mind of a person who chooses to do this, something we don’t have explanations for. As far as I know, people like Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy didn’t have motivations for what they did. Now, on the other hand, if it’s a premeditated murder or a single situation where someone acts in the heat of the moment, those are different types of situations. But to assign a “motive” to something like a serial killing is just the humans way of trying to force an explanation for something we don’t have explanations for.
    **END SPOILER**

    And the most interesting thing for me on this is that I never cared why, I was so caught up in the action of the plot and the characters themselves. I think that’s the thing that really indicated to me why I loved this book so much…I was truly caught up in the beauty of every element of it.

    I’m so excited to have finally started reading Ian Rankin!! Yay!

  • Congrats on finally making the leap! Love his writing.

  • Laura Thompson says:

    Okay, I’m a little late on this conversation but I just finished this book and I need to vent. I’ve read virtually all of the Rebus books and the ending was just so quick and sloppy. We barely even get to know the killer … nevermind why he did the murders, what was with the photos he sent of the victims? It was a plot point frequently brought up, but never explained why he would do this. The story ends abruptly, and we never know enough about the actual killer to care that it was him who did it, or why. I’m a big fan of the Rebus books and this is the most disappointing one I’ve read.

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      Thanks for your comment, Laura. As you can see from my review, I agree with your frustration about the ending. This was my first Rebus, and I’m glad to hear the others are more satisfying.

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