Review of “The Naming of the Dead” by Ian Rankin

The main “character” of this Inspector Rebus mystery is actually the G8 Summit, which took place in Edinburgh at the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland in July of 2005. [The G8 (Group of Eight) is a forum for the heads of the richest industrialized countries: France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. The summit is a venue for resolving differences among its members, especially regarding economic decisions. In addition, the President of the European Commission has been formally included in summits since 1981.]

The G8 meetings present thorny challenges for police, faced with the threat of terrorists as well as the inevitable groups of protestors who are now a routine part of global summits. For the 2005 conference, Scotland put together a security plan known as Operation Sorbus, named after the berry of the rowan tree, which according to folklore wards off evil spirits. There were 10,000 police on standby; watchtowers; an exclusion zone; a no-fly zone; surveillance cameras; horse and dog units; and even an airship to spot troublemakers and beam back video footage to officers on the ground.

Edinburgh G8 Police, 2005

In this book, the 17th novel in the popular Inspector Rebus series, Detective Inspector John Rebus, a known troublemaker, has been assigned to stay back at the police station, “manning the ship.” He manages to get over to the Summit area anyway after an apparent suicide of a preconference dinner attendee, a young politician who plunged from the walls of Edinburgh Castle. Furthermore, his colleague, Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke, has found some clues near the G8 Summit grounds relating to a serial killer case on which they are working.

Both the London and Scotland police chief try to keep Rebus and Clarke from interfering with the G8 proceedings, but the two detectives are determined to work on behalf of the victims of the crimes they are investigating. They liken their quest to that of the G8 protestors who climb to the top of Edinburgh’s Calton Hill to commemorate the lives lost during the Iraq conflict in a ceremony called “Naming the Dead.”

Rebus knew that, being so close to retirement, he could in theory let these cases go:

“Nobody’d blame you for coasting…

Nobody but the dead.”

But he has spent his life dedicated to the dead, at the cost of the living:

“Rebus thought of how he had let his own family drift away from him, first his wife and daughter, and then his brother. Pushing them away because the job seemed to demand it, demanded his unconditional attention. No room for anyone else . . . Too late now to do anything about it.”

Siobhan too, has her doubts. She says to Rebus:

“People die, and we look back into their lives . . . and we can’t change anything. . . . It’s not enough, is it? . . . Just . . . symbolic . . . because there’s nothing else you can do.”

‘What are you talking about?’ he asked with a smile.

‘The naming of the dead,’ she told him. . . .”

The two detectives engage in some creative subterfuge to get onto the G8 grounds to investigate the murders. They eventually resolve the crimes, but don’t seem to make any progress at all in curing their angst.

Discussion: In this purportedly penultimate book in the Rebus series, the inspector is almost sixty, and he is, as Siobhan notes, “obsessed and sidelined; cranky and mistrusted.” Plus he drinks from morning until bedtime, at which time he basically passes out in a drunken stupor. Incredibly, all the alcohol doesn’t seem to affect his performance much.

He persists in flouting the rules, talking back to superiors, consorting with criminals, lying, and doing whatever else it takes to solve crimes, which he continues to do brilliantly enough to allow him to get away with all the rest of his behavior.

He works mainly with Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke, who clearly looks up to Rebus even as she fears that she may end up too much like him. Her presence provides a welcome foil to Rebus, whose surly demeanor and constant drinking can get irritating, even as it seems much more realistic than so many dashing, close-to-perfect detectives.

This is not the usual detective series. The plots are complex, and the characters spend a lot of time in pubs. Rebus continues to look for redemption, and yet it seems as if everything he does points him in the other direction.

Evaluation: Recommended for fans of the Inspector Rebus series.

Rating: 3/5

Published in the U.S. by Little, Brown and Company, 2007

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11 Responses to Review of “The Naming of the Dead” by Ian Rankin

  1. Julie P. says:

    I definitely want to read some of this series. I was very impressed with Mr. Rankin’s writing style, but I didn’t exactly love DOORS OPEN.

  2. I have a Rankin sitting here, the days until it is due back at the library ticking away.
    I think I have chosen my next read.

  3. Sandy says:

    I never got back to this series after reading the first one, Knots and Crosses. But I want to. I like my detectives grumpy and drunk and vigilant. I especially like it when they pull in actual events in history and weave it into the story. OK, so next year? No more than five challenges, so I can dig into a few of these series.

  4. Staci says:

    I’ve never read this author…sounds like a detective that I could really enjoy though! 😀

  5. Barbara says:

    I have a bad case of the creeps thinking of a person going over the wall at Edinburgh Castle. OMG! The book sounds wonderful. Never thought I’d be interested in one set at a G8 Summit but . . .

  6. bermudaonion says:

    I haven’t tried the Inspector Rebus series, but I suspect I’d like it, so I need to find the time to do so!

  7. Jenny says:

    Wow, I feel a bit old. I was in London in July of 2005, but it doesn’t seem long enough ago for there to be a book set at the G8 Convention. Mercy.

  8. Jenners says:

    I think I’m going to have to try this series at one point. It sounds kind of interesting and different.

  9. BooksPlease says:

    I haven’t read your post all through as this is the next Rebus book for me to read (I’m reading them in series order).

    I’ve noticed as the series progresses how job-weary Rebus is becoming! As The Naming of the Dead is the penultimate book in the series (he does retire in Exit Music, which I also haven’t read yet) it seems he had a long run in to retirement. A bit like I did – without the alcohol problem, I hasten to add!

    Do I gather from your rating that you’re not too keen on this book?

    • You’re right, I wasn’t too keen on this one. He did indeed seem so weary, and as if all he wanted to do was drink (and in fact, that’s a large part of all he did all day).

  10. Margot says:

    I gave book one an honest try but just couldn’t get excited about it so I took it back to the library. I actually like the premise of this book but it doesn’t sound like this is the one to make me love Rebus.

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