The Beat Goes On by Ian Rankin, book review

It's a fair cop as Rebus refuses to stay away

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The Independent Culture

Despite the prodigious amount of punishment that his body has taken, externally from violence, internally from alcohol, Ian Rankin's short-tempered Edinburgh copper DI John Rebus is proving surprisingly indestructible. Rankin, long the bestselling male writer of crime fiction in Britain, took the decision to age his detective in real time, and retired him when Rebus reached 60.

But, like his great predecessor (and fellow Scot) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rankin has found it difficult to write finis to the career of his long-serving protagonist, and recently brought him back in Standing in Another Man's Grave, where he was returned to the CID with a demotion. With The Beat Goes On, we are given what is described as "The Complete Rebus Short Stories", and it's a cherishable collection – except, perhaps, for the fact that it is actually nothing of the sort, as Rankin himself admits in the introduction; several are missing.

The first story, Dead and Buried, presents us with a younger Rebus making his mark at Summerhall station in the Eighties, and not yet in auto-destruct mode when it comes to relationships (he is still married). When the body of a convicted murderer is exhumed, Rebus is catapulted into a maelstrom of corruption and double-dealing, with the unforgiving accoutrements of police work in 1960 handled in typically excoriating fashion by Rankin.

It's a curtain-raiser to an enjoyable collection, frequently displaying the playfulness that is characteristic of the author (as evinced by the references to popular music in his titles). But it's not just rock music that energises Rankin: it is fellow writers such as Dashiell Hammett – one of the stories here, "The Dean Curse" (a riff on Hammett's The Dane Curse), has Rebus looking into the case of a military figure targeted by a car bomb. Very different fare may be found in "The Very Last Drop", which features a trip to a Scottish brewery – the perfect stamping ground for an alcoholic.

Inevitably, not all of the writing here is vintage Rankin, but the hit ratio is very much on the plus side, and the short stories function as a good introduction to those unfamiliar with Rebus. Rankin aficionados, however, who possess the earlier collections A Good Hanging and Beggar's Banquet may feel a little short-changed by the duplications – how many times can Rankin's publishers go to the well? Diehard collectors may grumble, but will probably shell out for this latest volume, and feel they've got their money's worth.