The twentieth book in this great series finds the protagonist, former Edinburgh police detective John Rebus, finally retired. The hard work of detecting has been turned over to younger men and women like Rebus's long-time protege, Siobhan Clarke, and his one-time nemesis, Malcolm Fox. Fox, a former member of the Complaints division (Scotland's version of Internal Affairs) is still distrusted by almost every other police officer, and has been assigned to a relatively useless role assisting a surveillance team visiting from Glasgow. The team has spent months attempting to take down a major Glasgow crime family and has followed the father and son to Edinburgh, where the criminals are allegedly attempting to find a man who has stolen valuable property from them.
At the same time, Siobhan is investigating the murder of Lord David Minton an elderly, influential former prosecutor. The initial assumption is that the victim was killed during a burglary, even though nothing appears to have been taken. But then Clarke discovers that Minton had received a note threatening his life just before he was killed. Shortly thereafter, someone takes a shot at "Big Ger" Cafferty, an infamous Edinburgh crime boss. The only cop, or ex-cop, that Cafferty will even think about discussing the matter with is his long-time nemesis, John Rebus. Over the years, the two adversaries have developed a grudging respect for each other, and Rebus agrees to be the intermediary between Cafferty and the police.
The plot thickens considerably when it turns out that Cafferty received the same threatening note that Lord Minton had gotten. The case also seems to tie into the surveillance that Malcolm Fox is working, and retired or not, once John Rebus has the bit between his teeth, nothing is going to stop him from immersing himself in the investigation.
The result is one of the best entries in what has been a consistently excellent series. Rebus is in top form, and it's great to see him back in harness, working alongside Clarke and Fox. Of course, as any fan of the series knows, for John Rebus, "working alongside" his colleagues should be interpreted very loosely. Rebus has always been his own man, and he's not at all reluctant to stray off the reservation in the pursuit of an investigation, irrespective of what his supervisors or his colleagues might think. Working with him, even in "retirement," can be a very taxing exercise for those around him. But for the reader, it's enormous fun. I can only hope John Rebus is still investigating cases and frustrating his superiors for years to come.