Picks and Pans Review: A Question of Blood

updated 03/22/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/22/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

BY Ian Rankin

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"He was on painkillers...and looking for trouble." This sentence describes not the villain but the hero of Rankin's masterful new police procedural. After spending 14 novels hunting down criminals and sorting out a messy life, Edinburgh's Detective Inspector John Rebus isn't calming down. This riveting novel finds Rebus in a number of awkward positions. A petty criminal has died in a suspicious fire, and Rebus has burns on both his hands that he won't explain to his superiors. Worse is a horrific school shooting by a former member of the Special Air Service that leaves one shell-shocked survivor. It dredges up Rebus's own fraught memories of failing to pass muster in the same elite army branch. Worst of all, his own family may be involved in the crime.

Rankin skillfully leads his bad-boy cop to maturity, deepening the author's chief themes of justice, identity and displacement. His Edinburgh is the furthest thing from the villages of cozy English mysteries—it's gritty and haunted, with a populace trying to both hang on to and define its Scottish character in a unified Europe. The characters are brought into relief slowly and with a full complement of human values and contradictions. "There's no mystery," the tale begins. Oh, but there is.


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