Rebus couldn’t get so excited. The whole enterprise had shown him a simple truth: no vacuum. Where you had society, you had criminals. No belly without an underbelly.
It’s just that kind of chipper optimism that keeps readers coming back to the Rebus books, isn’t it? The events in The Hanging Garden sure aren’t going to change his mind. There are three investigations at the core of this book (although another is referred to repeatedly) — but far more than 3 crimes.
The first is an investigation into an older gentleman who is suspected to be a former Nazi officer who was involved in the slaughter of an entire town in the waning days of WWII. Because of Rebus’ penchant for taking historical deep-dives when most police officers wouldn’t, he’s assigned to investigate this man. There are individuals from various organizations, governmental entities, and the press who are pressuring the accused and Rebus on this front.
The second involves an up and coming gangster — Tommy Telford’s smarter, quicker, and crueler than Rebus and the rest are used to dealing with — he’s also a genuine rival to Big Ger Cafferty (especially since Cafferty’s in prison). There’s a prostitute, a victim of human trafficking, that Rebus focuses on, trying to get her out of Telford’s control while using her to take him down. This becomes laden with some personal baggage (see below) and Rebus takes some risky moves that have some devastating consequences.
Lastly, Rebus’ daughter, Sammy is struck by a car in a hit and run and spends days in a coma. Based on a witness’ statement, Rebus becomes convinced that she was targeted thanks to her involvement with the prostitute and/or being his daughter. Either way, Rebus is out for blood — if only he knew who he was after. He strikes a deal to get criminals looking for the perpetrator while he’s helping/prodding the official police investigation. It really doesn’t matter which side of the law finds the driver, as far as he’s concerned, the end is the only important thing.
I’m not sure we needed the Nazi storyline — which by the way, is based on a real atrocity — but it serves to muddy the waters for Rebus and distract him. So it did play its part, and was good enough that I’m not complaining. Telford is a wonderful (fictional) criminal — I don’t want this guy walking around in my world, but in a novel? Love him. And the Sammy story — obviously, this is the emotional core to the book and is really well done.
When you have that many plates spinning, it’s hard to keep them going — and to do so in a way that balances the story telling to keep the reader engaged and not confused. Throwing in the personal aspects make it all the harder for Rankin — Clarke and Templar are involved with the police actions, and Jack Morton plays a significant role, too (and I finally liked him). Plus you have Sammy (mostly seen in flashbacks), Rhona (her mother) who comes to look after her comatose daughter. Patience Aitken is around as well — what she ever sees in Rebus, I’ll never know, it’s clearly a horrible match.
The way that Rankin has put this one together made it very difficult for me to talk about (I’ve tried to get this post written at least a dozen times). But that doesn’t mean it was hard to read — once I was in 10 pages or so in, there was no stopping. It’s a heckuva read, and I really can’t express more than that.
Rebus — mostly sober throughout, for a change — has some strong moments of self-assessment and self-examination, and is able to see/express things about himself and his approach to his work that many readers probably have intuited but it’s nice to have the man himself realize. Including one insight into himself that enabled me to finally figure out what makes Rebus and Harry Bosch different — something I’ll hopefully return to soon.
I didn’t expect that this would live up to Black and Blue, and it didn’t. But it wasn’t a let-down in any sense — it was a different kind of story, a different kind of crime, and different motivations for John Rebus. Still, the essentials are there: Rebus, his outlook, his tenacity, his humor, and his demons. Crime fiction doesn’t get much better than this.