This is another classic Rebus thriller from an acknowledged master. The usual crowd of friends and enemies, including his nemesis `Big Ger' Cafferty, are all here in a story that is full of twists and turns, and steadily becomes more complex as it evolves. Initially, Rebus thinks he is investigating a murder in a butcher's shop, while being part of a joint operation with Trading Standard's officers to trap some junior associates of Cafferty in an illegal money-lending/protection racket. But things change completely when a colleague is badly beaten at the back of the Heartbreak Café. After Rebus finds his friend's notebook he, with his colleague DC Siobhan Clarke, is drawn into investigating a death of an unknown man that took place five years earlier during a fire that gutted the Central Hotel. The trail leads them to a complex series of crimes, including murder, extortion, and bribery, to name just a few.
As in other Rebus novels, there is a superb portrait of Edinburgh and its surroundings, and marvelous descriptions of the many characters that live there and are connected to the investigation, ranging from the habitués of seedy pubs and sad figures living on the fringes of crime, to powerful men who can influence events behind the scenes. Rebus of course does eventually solve several crimes, but most important for him is that he scores off Cafferty. However, he only does this by bending the rules and is not above `sacrificing' a minor fish to catch the bigger prey. Apart from the crime, there are running stories involving Rebus' personal relationships, for example: with his brother, who has returned to Edinburgh after doing time for drug offences, partly on the evidence from Rebus himself; and the on-off relationship of Rebus with his doctor girlfriend. These help make Rebus a real person with mixed human emotions and not just an obsessive investigating machine.