Like CD singles, which ask a little less money for a lot less music, this initial entry in Otto Penzler’s new Criminal Records series is far from a bargain page-wise. Still, Rankin manages to cram an impressive amount of conflict into about a quarter of his usual space. Inspector John Rebus has two cases. The first is standard investigative stuff—get the goods on Topper Hamilton, an ex-con who’s reputedly become a silent partner in an Edinburgh casino. Rebus’s boss, Chief Superintendent Watson, wants Topper bad—bad enough to lean on Rebus to lean on his pet snitch to bend his code of ethics: snitch on the customers but not on the boss. The second case is more delicate: find the son of his lost love, Janis Playfair, now married to his boyhood friend, Brain Mee, who vanished from the radar screen while standing next to an ethereal blond at the bar of a local club. As casino and club move toward their inevitable crossing, Rankin gives an impressively atmospheric glimpse into a world of stylish young punters and “women scented from heaven and all points south.” What’s sacrificed is any real detection: both cases resolve themselves more or less without Rebus’s help, leaving him to resume his interminable courtship of colleague Siobhan Clarke.
Readers may recognize subplots from Dead Souls (1999), published earlier but written later using what Rankin acknowledges as “cannibalized” material. The Criminal Records series offers fans a choice, but caveat lector: don’t buy the same book twice.