The Black Book is the fourth novel in Ian Rankin's Edinburgh-based series featuring hard-bitten police detective John Rebus. This one finds Rebus poking into a five-year old mystery involving an unidentified body burned up in a hotel fire.
The series really hits its stride in this book. The first one, Knots and Crosses, is a good story in itself, but the mystery is too personal to Rebus to be a proper kick off for a series – it's a sprint, not the start of a marathon. Hide and Seek is better, but still a little thin. The third one, Tooth and Nail, finds Rebus seconded to Scotland Yard to find a screamingly improbable serial killer. It has the markings of an early manuscript dusted off to appease an eager publisher.
But The Black Book has none of these flaws. Rebus has filled out as a character, as has his supporting cast, and there are about 50 more pages, which gives Rankin the space to develop the main and side stories. Edinburgh's history and environs shape the story and provide plenty of color.
Completists should start the series at the beginning, but for those just looking for a great mystery, jump right in with The Black Book.
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This counts as one of my books for the TBR challenges I am doing this year.