Rebus's exit

May 16, 2009

Exit Music

By Ian Rankin

Orion, 2007

460 pages, $26.95 (pb)

Exit Music is the 17th and final novel in Ian Rankin's Rebus series. The series, which began in 1987 with Knots and Crosses, features the hard-bitten and hard-drinking Edinburgh detective John Rebus.

The book takes us up to Rebus's official retirement from duty, and is up to the high standard set by Rankin in the previous books in the series. As always, Rankin manages to combine a gripping storyline with vivid characterisation of person and place, and displays his usual skill in capturing the mood and pulse of Edinburgh.

Published just before the current crisis besetting global capitalism, Exit Music sees Rebus having brushes with various unsavoury characters connected with the enormously successful First Albanach Bank (FAB). FAB is surely a thinly-disguised reference to the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

A sign of how much of what is solid has melted into air since 2007, is that FAB and its nearest competitor are described as having profit margins larger than the GDPs of many small countries. Of course, these days RBS and HBOS (Halifax Bank of Scotland) have potential deficits larger than the GDPs of many small countries.

Musing on the upper echelons of FAB — "with their games of golf and their 'quiet words', their stitch-ups and handshakes, palm-greasing and scratching of backs" — Rebus comes to a conclusion that most socialists would agree with: "it wasn't so much the underworld you have to fear but the overworld".

Indeed, later in the book Rebus appears to edge unintentionally close to Marx.

One character in the book describes poets as "our unacknowledged legislators", and following on from his experiences with FAB, Rebus reflects that the title of unacknowledged legislators really belongs "to the men in the pinstripe suits".

Or as the Communist Manifesto puts it: "The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the affairs of the whole bourgeoisie."

Overall, Rankin's Rebus books do for contemporary Edinburgh what McIlvanney's Laidlaw books earlier achieved for Glasgow, and Exit Music provides a fitting finale to an ingenious and compelling series.

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