Book Review: Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin

Posted on November 24, 2012


With this review I am implementing a simple five star rating system. Nothing terribly startling about that but a more visual impact would be better than the current format.

Standing In Another Man’s Grave
Ian Rankin
Orion Publishing



It is five years since John Rebus retired but Standing In Another Man’s Grave sees his return. Not only is Rebus as stubborn and anarchic as ever, but he finds himself in trouble with Rankin’s latest creation, Malcolm Fox of Edinburgh’s internal affairs unit. Added to which, Rebus may be about to derail the career of his ex-colleague Siobhan Clarke, while himself being permanently derailed by mob boss and old adversary Big Ger Cafferty. But all Rebus wants to do is discover the truth about a series of seemingly unconnected disappearances stretching back to the millennium. The problem being, no one else wants to go there – and that includes Rebus’ fellow officers. Not that any of that is going to stop Rebus. Not even when his own life and the careers of those around him are on the line.


One of the appealing things about Ian Rankin’s writing is the sense of realism that comes through strongly. Unlike some comparable series where there is almost a sense of a character in a largely ageless sense of limbo, John Rebus has aged and changed over time.

Prior to the previous Rebus novel, Rankin was asked how old his character was. He did a quick calculation and worked out that Rebus would have to be in his late fifties. It was at this point that Rankin learned that the age of 60 meant a mandatory retirement of detectives in the Scots police. That then became the back story to Exit Music – the pending retirement of John Rebus. But things have changed with retired Scots police officers now allowed to apply to re-join the force. This gave Rankin an opportunity for another Rebus novel within that continuing timeline of realism.

It was interesting to see Rebus in conflict with another standalone Rankin character, Malcolm Fox, with Fox being the antagonist. And in a time of greater accountability and similar expectations of police around the world, there is little, if any, room for a rule-bending maverick like John Rebus with Fox seemingly intent on ensuring Rebus is never readmitted to the force. This becomes a curious yet understandable conflict between these two quite different types of character.

My memory of Exit Music was of Rebus at the hospital, pounding on the chest of his nemesis, Big Ger Cafferty. He didn’t want Cafferty to die – that would have been too easy an exit from life; Rebus wanted to be the one to finish Cafferty.

Early in this new novel, we learn that Cafferty did survive, in part due to that action of Rebus. Now they have drifted into what is for Rebus, an uneasy relationship with fortnightly meets for drinks. Part of me thought why Rebus didn’t tell Cafferty to sod off. Yet there was also a sense of a man missing the life that he previously had, with Cafferty being a form of a link to that. In a sense, Cafferty is also ‘retired’ or at least as much retired as an old crim like him is going to be.

Not surprisingly we see Rebus in conflict with the newer style of management and full of contempt for those more interested in playing career games than actually doing the job.  In short, we see all the things we expect to see in a John Rebus novel but with the sense of Rebus now truly being an outsider, wanting his way back in. Or does he? It is the same challenge faced by many people whose career and personal life were so closely linked only to have the career aspect taken with and any sense of balance thereby lost.

There is enough here for both fans and those new to Ian Rankin and John Rebus.

Definitely a highly recommended read and worth five stars.

Posted in: Review