The Rankin Files— The Naming of the Dead

Writing is sometimes like playing a sport. Even though you may always have the same skill level, you are not necessarily always on your game. You have days when you perform in inspired fashion, ideas come easily to you, but there are other days when this is definitely not the case. Whilst Fleshmarket Close was not Ian Rankin’s finest, The Naming of the Dead, the 15th full novel in the series, must be near or at the top of the list of must reads by this prolific author. It has everything one could want in a murder mystery— scope, pace, wit, connundrums to be solved, major characters playing their roles well and ‘in character’, drama, pathos and I could go on.

The title of the novel comes from the practice of reading out the names of the dead, usually at religious or patriotic services of one kind or another— those who have given their lives either in the service of Christ, or their country, or both. The problem is… in this novel, like the world population clock, the meter keeps running, and the dead keep piling up in Edinburgh.
John Rebus is coming to the end of his police career after 30 years on the force, and he finds himself largely marginalized and sidelined, and yet still finding a way to be useful and keep his hand in. It proves to be quite necessary during the G8 meeting in 2005 in Glen Eagles north of Edinburgh, not least because such meetings bring all the protestors one could imagine out of the woodwork. Since there is as I write this about to be another G8 meeting in the U.K. check this poster out from near the Cambridge train station courtesy Greenpeace…

The little sticker on the man’s head says stop the G8 summit. The G8 summit is of course where the superpowers come together, austensibly to see what they can do to make the world less dangerous, forgive third world debt, and co-operate in mutually beneficial ventures, economic ones especially. Rebus and Clarke however find themselves dealing with three rather grizzly murders, the investigation of which is supposed to be put on hold… but apparently Rebus and Clarke did not get the memo. But when over 300,000 marchers and protestors descend on Edinburgh and points north, things become dodgy to say the least, and once again the Rebus/Clarke team seem to find it necessary to deal with the devil they know— namely Big Ger Cafferty, the real kingpin of crime in Edinburgh.

Here is the plot summary presented to us on Amazon—

“The leaders of the free world descend on Scotland for an international conference, and every cop in the country is needed for front-line duty…except one. John Rebus’s reputation precedes him, and his bosses don’t want him anywhere near Presidents Bush and Putin, which explains why he’s manning an abandoned police station when a call comes in. During a preconference dinner at Edinburgh Castle, a delegate has fallen to his death. Accident, suicide, or something altogether more sinister? And is it linked to a grisly find close to the site of the gathering? Are the world’s most powerful men at risk from a killer? While the government and secret services attempt to hush the whole thing up, Rebus knows he has only seventy-two hours to find the answers.”

What I especially love about this series besides the mystery element and crime solving, is the relationship both collegial and friendly between Rebus and Clarke. They may not be Sonny and Cher, but they are a dynamic duo and they keep working together despite all obstacles, and the huge strain and stress of solving crimes all the time.

If you only have time to try one Ian Rankin novel, perhaps this is the one for you— like a good film, you don’t want this story to end.