The Rankin Files— A Question of Blood

This one is different, for this one is personal, and for my money this may be the best of all the novels in this series. The reason this story is personal for John Rebus is because one of his nephews is killed when an apparently crazed former soldier comes into a school, killing two children, and wounding a third— or did he? At the same time, John Rebus’ best colleague, under study and friend, Siobhan Clarke, has been attacked and repeatedly harassed by a ne’er do well bad guy and then he is found burned to death in his home not long after John Rebus had visited the man, apparently to convince him to leave Siobhan alone. In both cases, Rebus should have been off the case altogether due to conflict of interest, but he’s not having it. He must do something because ‘its a question of blood’, or at least in the case of John and Siobhan close affinity. Here is the summary from Amazon about the plot…

Given his contempt for authority, his tendency to pursue investigative avenues of his own choosing, and his habitually ornery manner, it’s a wonder that John Rebus hasn’t been booted unceremoniously from his job as an Edinburgh cop. He certainly tempts that fate again in A Question of Blood, which finds him and his younger partner, Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke, trying to close the case of a withdrawn ex-soldier named Lee Herdman, who apparently shot three teenage boys at a Scottish private school, leaving two of them dead, before turning the pistol on himself.

“There’s no mystery,” Siobhan insists at the start of this 14th Rebus novel (following Resurrection Men). “Herdman lost his marbles, that’s all.” However, the hard-drinking, chain-smoking Rebus, who’d once sought entry into the same elite regiment in which Herdman served (but ultimately cracked under psychological interrogation), thinks there’s more motive than mania behind this classroom slaughter. Perhaps something to do with the gunman’s role in a 1995 mission to salvage a downed military helicopter, or with Teri Cotter, a 15-year-old “Goth” who broadcasts her bedroom life over the Internet, yet keeps private her relationship with the haunted Herdman. Rebus’s doubts about the murder-suicide theory are deepened with the appearance of two tight-lipped army investigators, and by the peculiar behavior of James Bell, the boy who was only wounded during Herdman’s firing spree and whose politician father hopes to use that tragedy as ammo in the campaign against widespread gun ownership. But the detective inspector’s focus on this inquiry is susceptible to diversion, both by an internal police probe into his role in the burning death of a small-time crook who’d been stalking Siobhan, and by the fact that Rebus–who shies away from any family contacts–was related to one of Herdman’s victims.

Now middle-aged and on the downward slope of his pugnacity (the high point may have come in 1997’s Black and Blue), Rebus has become the engine of his own obsolescence. Overexposure to criminals has left him better at understanding them than his colleagues, and he only worsens his career standing by fighting other people’s battles for them, especially Siobhan, who risks learning too many lessons from her mentor. To watch Rebus subvert police conventions and fend of personal demons (that latter struggle mirrored in A Question of Blood by Herdman’s own) is worth the admission to this consistently ambitious series. –J. Kingston Pierce.

One of the features I like about this particular installment of the series is that we find Rebus not playing his cards so close to his vest, unlike Ian Rankin who keeps us in suspense to the very end of tale as to how in the world things are going to be sorted out. And inquiring minds want to know— how exactly did John Rebus burn the daylights out of his hands…especially if he was not present when Mr. Fairstone, the bad guy who harassed Siobhan was turned into a crispy critter. You get a rare picture into the heart and soul of John Rebus, into his real feelings, and what he like when the protective facade of cynicism and quick quips is stripped away. Rebus, the lion of justice may be getting long in the tooth, but he’s still on the case, still on the prowl, and still very much on his game.

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