The third Rebus novel shifts proceedings from Edinburgh to London, with the irascible Detective Inspector commandeered by Scotland Yard to assist with the hunt for the serial killer stalking the streets. Not that Rebus is particularly versed in this form of policing; his only experience with such a killer featured in Knots & Crosses, which turned out to be more personal than professional, and even then, he spent much of the novel ignoring obvious clues. But it’s all about perspective, and his London brethren feel a he has something to add, and who is John Rebus to argue?
The Wolfman – so named because the first victim was found dumped in Wolf Street – is a vicious, cannibalistic killer, whose tendencies and proclivities have thus far defied explanation. When Rebus joins London copper George Flight’s team, it’s clear they has run a diligent and committed investigation without any tangible result. Cue Rebus: the fly in the ointment, though not always intentionally. Rebus hopes to get under the killer’s skin – rile The Wolfman to encourage a moment of zealousness, and therefore a mistake – but in doing so, he endangers the lives of those around him, making himself, and them, a potential target. Though his confidants are hardly innocent themselves; the young profiler aiding him has secrets of her own, and Flight growls increasingly wary of his investigative style.
Tooth & Nail emphasizes Rebus’s status as an outsider, in this instance making it overt, and diminishing his role to a small fish in a big pond. He is less cocksure; unfamiliar with the terrain, his allies far away, facing up against a psychotic unlike any he’s ever seen. We genuinely feel Rebus has bitten off more than he can chew here, and it’s enthralling reading as he closes in on the killer; adrenaline-fuelled too, as the stakes are raised dramatically in the climactic scenes.
Three novels into his series, and Ian Rankin was hitting his stride. The fourth, Strip Jack, marked a new phase, as the author began transporting his characters into a more realistic Scotland. Gone were the fictional police stations and pubs. Moving forward, the world of Rebus paralleled the real Edinburgh.