Nothing more than 12 character studies, perhaps—but the character they’re studying is probably the most interesting man in detective fiction, the quintessential thinking man, Edinburgh DI John Rebus. It’s fascinating to watch him ratiocinate his way through a schoolgirl’s enforced suicide (“The Gentlemen’s Club”), his old nemesis “Trigger” Crawford’s revenge on a drug dealer (“Auld Lang Syne”), a peeper’s comeuppance (“Tit for Tat”), an alibi that breaks down, rises again, then crumbles (“Not Provan”), a Hammett cliché (“The Dean Curse”), and a hanging that turns out to be manual strangulation (the title story). Rebus, per usual, groans at pathologist Dr. Curt’s puns—most noticeably in “Seeing Things”—reconstructs and then deconstructs a murder scenario in “Concrete Evidence,” believes a murderer when he recants a confession in “Playback,” and sorts through fantasy and fact as they wend their way through Frank the tramp’s brain in “Being Frank.” And while “Monstrous Trumpet” finds Rankin in a playful mood and Rebus confronting his Francophobia and a passel of man-baiters, it is the brief “Sunday” and Rebus’s reaction to murdering a thug that most worries his perpetual underling, Constable Brian Holmes—and sticks with the reader the longest afterward.
Are the stories as potent as the Rebus novels (The Falls, p. 1172, etc.)? No. But any time spent with Rebus is quality time.