A Heart Full of Headstones by Ian Rankin

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Ian Rankin is at it again. His stalwart, now-retired detective John Rebus holds sway over all the cunning he has learnt over many years as one of Scotland’s finest in producing a gripping story that strikes all the high spots. Fine entertainment, I say! Was I shocked that Rebus would take solution-finding into his own hands – not a bit of it!

While this is a fine yarn, it must be admitted that it is not one of Rankin’s best. John Rebus, the hero, is portrayed as being on trial, facing a charge that may see him in prison for many years. In the event, the trial takes little more than a page.

But there must be a reason for Rebus’s appearing before the Court in the first place. There is, of course. Haggard, an infamous detective, after years of misconduct, is required to face the Professional Standards Unit. In fact, he disappears and much of the book is devoted to finding him and to examining the unit from which he came. Well into the book, it is discovered that he has been murdered. On one occasion during Rebus’s long association with the Scottish police, he had provided advice to the group from which the absconder came.  Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke plays a leading role in trying to bring the offender to justice, her role complicated by her friendship with Rebus.

The book is constructed around the parts played by Rebus, Clarke and Detective Inspector Malcolm Fox. While a great deal of attention is devoted to these three, the book suffers by the introduction of a large number of other players. The result is that the reader must spend considerable time in a sort of mental calisthenics assembling the players as they move in and out of the story. The numbers of investigators and of criminals are immense.

Accompanying the large number of players is the correspondingly large set of events. Rankin’s work in the past has controlled this problem.

Much of the story is not about Rebus at all, but is more focused on Siobhan Clarke, her relationship with Rebus but particularly with Malcolm Fox. Fox is an enthusiastic hunter of detectives who are even slightly ‘bent’. He has no compunction against advancing his own career to the detriment of others and in this particular book does his best to persuade Clarke to follow his lead.

Another major character is the master criminal ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty. The story revolves around his attempts to manipulate Rebus and the latter’s response to his manipulation. This leads to the climax in the story which unfortunately for Rankin is handled in a very sloppy manner.

Throughout, it becomes very clear that Rankin is completely at home, writing about Scotland and its major cities, and has the ability to create a realistic story based on Scotland’s geographical features. For those of us who have read many of Rankin’s books, it is disappointing to discover one that is not quite the standard of the others.

A Heart Full of Headstones


By Ian Rankin


ISBN: 978-1-398-70936-2

$32.99; 353 pp


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