The 4th book in the Rebus series sees our leading character back in Edinburgh and in a new relationship with Dr Patience Atkin. Rebus is without a doubt more comfortable in his native Edinburgh and in this book I would say he is at his most stable so far. That said, it wouldn’t be Rebus if there weren’t dark clouds up ahead and doubts about his future, or more specifically his and Patience’s future. Forever tied to his job and unable to put his love life first I found it amusing that a decision about whether to move in with Patience is weighted by whether he continues to be based at the Greater London Road police station or moved to St Leonards. For those who’ve read subsequent or more recent Rebus books…well you know the outcome.
Of the Rebus books so far I would say Strip Jack is the more straight forward “who dun nit” with a little bit of Rebus intuition thrown in. The book starts with a raid on an Edinburgh brothel, where amongst the many punters the police find a popular young MP Gregor Jack. Despite the secrecy of the raid upon exiting the building the road is lined with press. Something about this doesn’t sit well with Rebus, it just seems too lucky for the press to be there. When Jack’s wife Elizabeth disappears Rebus can’t help but feel there is a bigger game at foot and starts to explore the social and personal lives of Gregor and Elizabeth Jack and their friends. A disappearance becomes a murder. There is pressure on the police to quickly solve it but Rebus isn’t convinced they’re following the right line of enquiry. True to himself and like a dog with a bone Rebus won’t give up. Was Gregor Jack set up? Who can be trusted? Where was Elizabeth murdered? Step by step Rebus unravels the story in a way only he can.
Without becoming uncontrollable in twists and turns there are enough red herrings and sub-plots in Strip Jack to keep us all guessing. The cast is larger than previous books, giving Rankin an opportunity to develop more colourful and varied characters and in doing so giving Rebus more reflections to compare and judge himself against. With this book we are seeing a world evolve around the Inspector. In subsequent correspondence Ian Rankin has spoken about his decision with this book to take Rebus out of a fictional Edinburgh and into a more real one. In the short series so far geography and in particular Edinburgh and its surrounding areas have proven to be a key building block of the books. These books more so than any other series I have read place a city at its heart. Edinburgh is as much a reoccurring character as Brian Holmes, Gill Templer, “Farmer Watson” and in the later books Siobhan Clarke and “Big Ger Cafferty”. Whether it is the return from London, or this decision to make Edinburgh more real, in Strip Jack Rebus feels more grounded and secure in his role at the station, his stage in life and quite possibly in his romantic life.
It goes without saying that I’m a huge fan of Ian Rankin’s work, I wouldn’t be re-reading the series from start if I wasn’t. I really enjoyed this book and felt like you could feel Rankin getting to grips with his plot structure, character development and starting to bring multiple dimensions to his main man. A review of the book I recently read seemed to lament on the absence of the gruff, self-loathing critical rebel we know from later books. If you’re not reading the books in order I can understand why someone would question Rebus’ approach in this book but I would say to them, start at the beginning, travel with him, because only then can you truly understand the infuriating loner who wins the sympathy of readers time and time again.