In many respects, Even Dogs in the Wild feels like Ian Rankin’s magnum opus; like he’s been building towards this moment, this novel, since he started writing all those years ago. It brings together many of his greatest characters – John Rebus (of course); Siobhan Clarke; Malcolm Fox; and Ger Cafferty, to name just a few – and pits them against a dark, violent, enigmatic foe, who is targeting the Edinburgh underbelly’s most fearsome players.
Rebus is retired now, of course. Like Michael Connelly, Rankin made the decision long ago to age his protagonist in real time, and as his inaugural readership has aged, so too has the character. But Rebus’s blood runs blue – take away the badge and the official responsibility, but he’s still the same man; he retains that insatiable thirst for justice, and to bury his nose in other people’s business. So when Cafferty is targeted by this mysterious gunman, it doesn’t take much to rope Rebus into the investigation. His relationship with Cafferty has taken an interesting turn in recent years since his retirement. It would be a mistake to call them friends, but the animosity between the two has dissipated now that their societal roles are opaque. So, too, has Rebus’s relationship with Malcolm Fox turned into something more reminiscent of friendship; a mutual respect has garnered in the years since Fox was with the complaints (internal affairs) and was investigating the perennially insubordinate Rebus. In fact, the first sparks of true mateship starting to flicker…
So, there is plenty for veteran readers to enjoy; an added dimension that newcomers might not wholly appreciate, but will undoubtedly value the added texture of Rebus’s world. Thankfully, the core mystery itself – Who is the killer? What’s his beef? – is packed with twists and turns, and revelations that’ll leave readers floored. After 20 years of writing crime, Rankin is a grandmaster of the genre, and his year’s sabbatical has reinvigorated his already-stellar storytelling flair. While I was saddened when Rebus retired, my greatest fear was that he might later be shoehorned into subsequent novels; his name carries a ton of cache, after all. I’m thrilled that hasn’t been the case. Rebus still belongs in this world, and it’s clear Rankin has plenty more to say about the character, and through his perspective.
Even Dogs in the Wild is a brilliant novel; a page-turner with great depth. If this is what we get when Ian Rankin takes a year off to recharge his batteries, I’d be content to wait two years between novels; not happy, no way; but willing to comply.