"Set in Darkness" (2000) is 11th in the Detective Chief Inspector John Rebus series, by the award-winning author Ian Rankin, O.B.E., currently the best-selling writer of mysteries in the United Kingdom. And, mind you, it was published before the author was 40. It is here read by the author, and James MacPherson. "Set" can, like most of his work, be described as a police procedural, within the tartan noir school, and it is set in Edinburgh, in contrast to most Scots mystery writers at work now. The east coast Edinburgh is more or less his home town, as he was born in nearby Fife; in comparison to the west coast Glasgow, it's a more beautiful, smaller city, the administrative capital of the country, where you might expect the crime to be white collar, rather than blue, and bloody. But Rebus always seems to find enough to keep busy. Now, just what's tartan noir when it's at home, you ask? A bloodthirsty, bloody-minded business, to be sure, more violent than the average British mystery, but, thankfully, leavened a bit with that dark Scots humor. Written (duh!) by Scots.
The novel at hand, "Set," opens at an exciting moment. For the first time in nearly 300 years, Edinburgh is about to become the home of a Scottish Parliament. Detective Inspector John Rebus is charged with liaison to the parliament's building site, as it is under construction in the middle of his patch at the St Leonard's cop shop. Queensberry House will be home not only to Scotland's new rulers-to-be; it is also the site of a legend of a young man roasted on a spit in the kitchen by a madman son of the noble who owned it. When the fireplace where the youth supposedly died is uncovered, however, another more recent murder victim is revealed. This body is at least twenty years old, dating from the last interior remodeling of the mansion, and is unidentifiable. Days later another body is found in the grounds of the mansion. This time the victim is the well-born Roddy Grieve, prospective Member of Scottish Parliament (MSP) and the powers that be are on Rebus's back demanding instant answers. And then there's yet another body; a homeless man commits suicide shortly after discovery of the unidentifiable body, and, puzzlingly enough, the police learn that the vagrant had 400,000 pounds in the bank.
Rebus catches the case of the murdered Grieve, and must navigate his way around the man's prickly family: his mother Alicia, a well-known artist, sister Lorna, formerly a famous model; brother Cammo, already a political power in London. His cop's instincts shout at him that the three cases are interrelated. The detective also finds his old nemesis involved, Morris Gerald Cafferty, ruler of the city's underworld, unexpectedly benefiting from an early release from Glasgow's Barlinnie prison, back on his home turf. And the cases seem to point to the city's former crime lord, living in splendid self-imposed, non-extraditable exile in Spain, Bryce Callen, and his nephew Barry Hutton. One thing is clear: there will be lots of money to be made as Scotland approaches self-governing status; and where there's lots of money to be made, people often play rough. So Rebus ends up working the three cases; his frequent assistant, Siobhan Clarke, has been working another case, of a serial rapist, and that case too ends up thrown into the mix. And then there's a time when Rebus wonders if the classically beautiful, nearby Rosslyn Chapel, made famous by Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code
isn't somehow involved, as several of the characters seem to be interested in it.
The title of the book "Set in Darkness," can be found in a poem by Sarah Williams, "The Old Astronomer to his Pupil:"
Though my soul may set in darkness
It will rise in perfect light,
I have loved the stars too fondly
To be fearful of the night.
Rankin delivers the complex, dark tales with his customary vivid grittiness, wit and brevity. At one point he describes a couple of minor characters: "Big women they were, addicted to Scotland's pantry: cigarettes and lard. Training shoes, elasticated waistbands. Matching YSL tops, probably knock-off if not fake." He continues to give us brilliant, high-energy writing on Edinburgh, its flora, fauna, geography, weather, and inhabitants, and the adjoining ancient "Kingdom" of Fife, best-known now for its slumbering coal mines, and its vanished linoleum factory. The author has been nominated for an Edgar Award for Black And Blue
, for which he won England's prestigious Gold Dagger Award. His novel Dead Souls
was nominated for another Gold Dagger Award. He won the Edgar in 2004 for Resurrection Men
. Ten of his novels have been televised in series. He seems to be closing the Rebus series out now: you want to catch it while it is still relatively fresh if you can.