Cockle-picking is not one of Edinburgh's most glamorous occupations. When DI Rebus goes out to Leith in search of a slave-labour gang, he passes a sign on the beach warning shellfish caught there will be unfit for consumption. Rebus and DS Siobhan Clarke are both pursuing cases out of territory.
With the closure of the St Leonards CID, DI Rebus and DS Clarke find themselves assigned to neighbouring Gayfield Square. With his reputation following him wherever he goes, Rebus is more than aware that his floating status is supposed to annoy him enough that he will want to leave of his own accord. Now in his mid-fifties, Rebus is getting even closer to retiring but there's always one more case left in the man who knows Edinburgh like the back of his hand.
Siobhan is approached by the parents of a missing teenager who again want the assistance of the officer who helped them once before. The rapist who destroyed their other daughter is out and about, stirring up not so old hatreds and charging the community to speak up. Siobhan teams up with the local police when the ex-con is murdered, wondering as she does so whether she is investigating as assistance to a bewildered family or to determine their involvement with the murder.
Rebus is loaned out to an investigation of a murder in a dismal estate called Knoxland. Knoxland is well known for its racial problems and proximity to a immigration detention centre that brings out strong opinions in the small village that rely on its employment. The residents aren't talking and Rebus has seen enough of the like to know that the silence could be borne out of fear as much as it could be the habit of the angry poor to remain uninvolved.
The character of John Rebus would arguably have to be the best in British crime fiction. Author Ian Rankin serves up his hero warts and all, packaged into tales of the city that tackle the issues of the day from all perspectives. "Fleshmarket Close" is the fifteenth novel in this series, and while it concentrates less on the personal life of Rebus with several crime plots being played out simultaneously, it gives enough of an indication that future novels of the series might be markedly different from what we're used to seeing. The protégée, if you like, Siobhan Clarke gains strength with each appearance and this novel also raises the question as to exactly how the relationship between Rebus and Siobhan will continue.
There's a lot happening in this novel so a clear head is required to keep track of the merging plots and large array of characters. Rankin's flair with the details might have you back tracking repeatedly, but it's a small price to pay for your yearly dosage of Detective Inspector John Rebus.
Author Ian Rankin seems to be pushing some of the limits of this franchise - Rebus cannot go on forever. Rankin has apparently suggested that at one book each year, he could write FIVE MORE Rebus novels, by which time the fictitious detective will be 60 and due to retire. I'm not sure about this - I think Rankin would do better to put Rebus out to pasture now while he's at the top (just), and dedicate his time to new ideas and new heroes.
(Review written in 2005)