John Rebus, the Edinburgh detective inspector who manages to antagonize someone weighty in the course of nearly every investigation (Set in Darkness, 2000, etc.), has barely finished interrogating David Costello about the disappearance of his girlfriend Philippa “Flip” Balfour and downed a few single malts at the retirement farewell for his superior, the Farmer, when he decides, without sanctions, to search Flip’s flat, where he bumps into her dad John, a partner in a private bank, who has him suspended. While DC’s Siobahn Clarke and Grant Hill, assigned the task of reading Flip’s e-mail, are becoming enmeshed in the cryptic clues left for them by someone logging on as the Quizmaster, Flip’s body is found—along with a doll in a handmade miniature coffin. Rebus’s latest romance, Museum of Scotland curator Jean Burchill, alerts him to its historical counterparts: eight other doll-filled coffins found at other young girls’ death sites. Disgraced police press liaison Ellen Wylie and retired pathologist Donald Devlin study old autopsy reports; avaricious local potter Bev Dodds unearths yet another tiny coffin; the specter of notorious grave robbers Burke and Hare looms; and Jean’s research into the career of Dr. Kenneth Lovell almost brings her to the same end as Flip before Rebus effects an 11th-hour rescue, then zeroes in on his original suspect.
Like Rebus, readers will find no city more beautiful than Edinburgh, no locale more intriguing than Arthur’s Seat—and no characters in the genre more provocative or sharply delineated than Rankin’s ongoing cast.