Rowland Bismark's Reviews > Dead Souls

Dead Souls by Ian Rankin
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Aug 02, 2010

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Dead Souls offers both souls and bodies that are dead. As usual, there's a lot threatening to deaden John Rebus' soul, but he soldiers on; one of the more impressive aspects of this novel is how precariously he's balanced, always so near going over the edge. "I think something's gone bad inside you", an acquaintance diagnoses early on, and for much of the book Rebus himself isn't so sure that she's wrong.

A colleague isn't as lucky (or strong ?) as Rebus, literally going over an edge (a cliff, in fact): the book begins with Jim Margulies' death, an apparent suicide. And coincidence would have it that one of the criminals that really got to both Rebus and Margulies, the paedophile Darren Rough, is back in town. Rebus encounters him at the zoo (where Rebus is meant to be on the lookout for an animal-poisoner), and soon enough Rough becomes a bigger part of his life than he might have wanted. Letting the neighbours know who the new man is in one of Edinburgh's rougher council estates is enough to pretty much ruin Rough's life -- but that turns out not be quite as satisfying as Rebus had hoped.

One reason Rough is back in town is because there is a big paedophile trial going on, and he might testify. Even Rebus is called into court, though he was only peripherally involved in the case. But child molestation seems to be in the air, almost everywhere he turns.

One thing that can get his mind off that is a serial killer. Cary Oakes, just released from prison in the United States and deported back to the UK, is just the thing. A psychopath, all the indications are that he will kill again -- and the Edinburgh police are none too pleased when he decides the first place he'll settle down in is their patch. But he's a free man, and beyond a bit of surveillance there's not much they can do. Rebus is one of the men assigned to watch him -- a job that's all the more fun because the exclusive rights to Oakes' story have gone to none other than the old Rebus-foe, journalist Jim Stevens. He wants to hole up with Oakes and get the story out of him, but Oakes has plans of his own -- and the means to carry them out. He entertainingly plays Stevens (and quite a few other people) for the fool, and though the character is quite a bit over the top it does make for considerable menace and suspense.

Finally, Rebus also gets drawn into a missing persons case: the nineteen year-old son of Janice and Brian, an old flame and a friend from the old neighbourhood, has simply disappeared. He tries to help out, getting drawn back into the old neighbourhood he escaped from.

Rebus' personal life also isn't going all too brilliantly. He pops in on wheelchair-bound daughter Sammy occasionally, but she's fairly independent. Rebus sort of lives with Patience, but that doesn't seem to be going too well, as he seems to spend more days sleeping elsewhere. And Janice threatens to allow him a nostalgic wallow that probably wouldn't be good for him either. Ah, yes:

Ama, Hannah, Katherine ... Sammy, Patience, Janice ... The never-ending dance of relationships and criss-crossings which took up so much space in his head. The party that never stopped, the invitations guilt edged.

Life and death in Edinburgh. And space still left over for a few ghosts, their numbers increasing.

Fortunately, Rankin doesn't get over-explicit like this too often, generally conveying Rebus' tormented inner self more subtly (and effectively).

Interfering Oakes, who knows way too much about everything, adds a good deal of excitement, especially when he latches on to Rebus and toys with him.

There are more deaths, and the various cases -- Margulies' suicide, Rough, Oakes, and the missing teenager -- are all resolved. Rankin overdoes it with some of what happens leading up to the resolutions -- Oakes, in particular, is just too bad to be true -- but everything is tied up particularly well, making for a satisfying (if not exactly happy) end.

Despite too much that is too simple or too sensational, and Rankin not showing enough patience with some of the detail (the book is packed with actions, events, and encounters), this is a very good mystery-thriller, a fine entertainment.

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