by Bruce TierneyFebruary, 2005
Rebus finds his social conscience
Edinburgh Detective Inspector John Rebus is one of the longest-running characters in modern-day crime fiction, thanks to the extraordinary writing skills of his creator, Scottish author Ian Rankin. Winner of the coveted Chandler-Fulbright award (funded by the estate of iconic mystery writer Raymond Chandler), Rankin has treated his readers to 18 years' worth of novels and short stories featuring the cynical and case-hardened Rebus. The latest, Fleshmarket Alley, finds our hero investigating the death of a refugee in a low-rent public housing project. Rebus quickly comes face-to-face with a new breed of racism, forcing him to look into his own closely held (and rarely examined) prejudices. He is exposed for the first time to the so-called "refugee detention housing," run by a for-profit American prison corporation, a holding tank for asylum seekers while the sluggish Scottish bureaucracy determines their fates. All the while, underworld profiteers game the system, offering a practical, if illegal, opportunity for sanctuary to the desperate immigrants. The Rebus novels have always been swiftly paced and superbly plotted, Fleshmarket Alley adds a new dimension of social awareness, a component that has been missing (or at least understated) to date.