Reviewed by Mike Clarke
It is an interesting concept to bring back a character that you have previously retired, but as many of us know, retirement often opens a new perspective on life. Even dogs in the wild is the latest in Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series. Rankin is a Scot from Edinburgh with a string of awards and number one best sellers, who has written twenty one novels in The Detective Inspector Rebus Series. In this story, Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke of Police Scotland is investigating the murder of a prominent lawyer. A cryptic note has been discovered at the scene of the crime. The plot thickens when Rebus’s nemesis ‘Big Ger Cafferty’, a retired gang leader also receives an identical note and bullet which almost takes his life.
Clarke sees the need for assistance as the similarity of the crimes becomes more complex and it is to the recently retired Rebus, the former colleague and mentor, she turns to for help. The only obvious assistance she can call upon is Rebus with his extensive experience of the Edinburgh crime scene. More importantly, Clarke knows that if she is to get any cooperation from Cafferty, then she needs Rebus as he is the only person Cafferty is likely to speak with, since his abiding hatred of the Scottish police is accompanied by a grudging respect for Rebus.
Rankin brings in another Rebus character DI Malcolm Fox, with whom Rebus appears to have had some form of mentoring relationship. Fox is an example of the plodding policeman with little going for him (even an attempt at a relationship with DI Clarke doesn’t seem to progress very far). Fox, a former Complaints Officer with Police Scotland, a fact which doesn’t win him too many friends in the force, is seconded to an undercover squad of Glasgow police who are tracking Joe and Dennis Stark, a father and son team of Glasgow gangsters intent on capturing the patch deserted by retired warlord Big Ger in Edinburgh.
Joe and Dennis Stark also have another agenda, finding a trucking company owner who had gone missing with a truck load of their drugs.
Rankin sets out the scenario and then embellishes the plot with ever increasing intriguing layers of narrative. His knowledge of the workings of the Scottish police and the rivalries and politics within it, are shown in somewhat cynical detail in one of the sub-plots which features the undercover investigation in which Fox is involved.
The arrival of Glasgow police on the Edinburgh turf causes problems for both the police and the criminals of that city and Rankin details the deep suspicion and animosity that exists between the citizens of the two cities. This sub plot also involves an undercover policeman thought to be a member of the Stark gang.
Rebus has to, at times, reign in his ingrained prejudices, yet plays a dominant role in Even dogs in the wild. His dislike of the police bureaucracy is apparent in the way his apparent forced retirement is hinted at. His reluctance to follow police procedure gets him into occasional conflicts with colleagues but his role as a consultant allows him more liberties that permanent employment within the service would provide.
The rivalries between departments are used sometimes in a humorous vein and sometimes for the purpose of highlighting the way police have disagreements among themselves as well as with the criminals they are meant to be fighting.
This provides Rankin the opportunity to bring in more unorthodox methods of policing into the plot, a technique which allows Rebus to tread where others may not and to question the procedure of the investigation.
Ian Rankin’s dialogue between the main characters is at times acerbic but mainly amusing. Every other page seems to have a memorable rejoinder.
He dug it out and peered at the screen, Caller: Shiv. Short for Siobhan. Not that she would countenance being called Shiv to her face. He considered not answering, but then tapped the screen and pressed the device to his ear.
‘You’re interrupting my training,’ he complained.
‘I’m planning on doing the Edinburgh Marathon.’
‘Twenty six pubs, is that it? Sorry to break into your schedule.’
‘I’m going to have to stop you there, caller. There’s someone on line two with a less smart mouth.’
‘Fine then- I just thought you might like to know.’
‘Know what? That Police Scotland is falling to pieces without me?’ (19)
He knows his characters and while Rebus may be ending his starring role in Rankin’s crime writing, Clarke and Fox are two developed characters who may well fill the void should Rankin ever wish to permanently retire Rebus.
It would appear that gang warfare with its finely drawn characters is the main theme of the book. But Rankin is such a fine writer that he is able to almost surreptitiously bring in a sub-plot of the topical subject of child abuse which eventually brings Even Dogs in the Wild to a compelling conclusion.
The unusual title is taken from a 1982 song by Scottish New Wave rock act The Associates – which leads to another mystery. A band member of The Associates is Alan Rankine. Note the ‘e’ at the end of the surname. Is there a connection?
An admission! Despite being a Brit/Scan Crime tragic, this is the first Ian Rankin book I have read. It won’t be the last.
By Ian Rankin