A Song for the Dark Times: An Inspector Rebus Novel (A Rebus Novel, 23)

by Ian Rankin

Hardcover, 2020

Call number





Little, Brown and Company (2020), 336 pages


"When his daughter Samantha calls in the dead of night, John Rebus knows it's not good news. Her husband has been missing for two days. Rebus fears the worst - and knows from his lifetime in the police that his daughter will be the prime suspect. As he leaves at dawn to drive to the windswept coast - and a small town with big secrets - he wonders whether this might be the first time in his life where the truth is the one thing he doesn't want to find..."--

User reviews

LibraryThing member lostinalibrary
Rebus is retired (sorta) and, thanks to a diagnosis of COPD, he is moving to a ground floor apartment. Siobhan Clarke is helping him move when she receives a call to investigate the murder of a Saudi student. Then Rebus receives a call from his daughter, Samantha telling him her partner, Keith, has
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gone missing. Despite their rather strained relationship, Rebus rushes to be with her. His reception by her is less than happy and soon, she makes it clear his presence is not needed. Still, he is concerned about her and decides to stay and investigate on his own since he knows that, should the disappearance turn out to be something worse, Samantha will be the prime, perhaps the only, suspect. And the more he looks into it, the more likely it becomes that Keith's disappearance and murder of the Saudi are connected

Ian Rankin is one of my favourite writers and A Song for the Dark Times is a good example why. It is the twenty-third novel in his Inspector Rebus series and it is still one of the best police procedural series out there. It is, as always, well-written, well-plotted, and intelligent,compelling and it kept me guessing right up to the end. The characters are three-dimensional and I like that they age as the series continues. Overall, a satisfying addition to the series and I recommend it highly.

Thanks to Netgalley and Little, Brown, & Company for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review
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LibraryThing member Birta
Retired John Rebus heads to the north of Scotland to be with his daughter Samantha after he learns her common-law spouse and father of her child has been murdered. Meanwhile, Siobhan Clarke is woven into the picture due to the fact that there are people in common with the murder investigation she
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is working on in Edinburgh. A great co-mingling of clues and bits of information flow back and forth between the former partners.
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LibraryThing member pgchuis
This was very much a case of two separate stories: Rebus up in Naver trying to prevent his daughter from being arrested for the murder of her partner, and Siobhan and Malcolm in Leith solving the murder of a Saudi student and trying to stay out of Cafferty's clutches. Neither strand really came
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alive for me.
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LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
Time and tide wait for no man, and they have been taking their toll on John Rebus, Ian Rankin’s ‘thrawn’ detective. I admire Rankin’s decision, like Michael Connelly with Hieronymus Bosch, to let his protagonist age in real time. Some prominent detectives (Hecule Poirot, Chief Inspector
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Wexford and Superintendent Peter Diamond), seem to have been preserved in aspic, plodding on year after year without ever changing.

One advantage of Rankin’s and Connelly’s approach is that it lends a greater verisimilitude, and also allows them greater scope for reference to real world events. The downside is that, sooner or later, they have to retire from the police force, and try to come to terms with retirement.

As this novel opens, Rebus is moving home. He isn’t going far, and is in the same block of flats, but now on the ground floor. Having been a lifelong smoker and drinker, he has succumbed to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which has meant that he can no longer readily cope with the two flights of stone stairs up to his old flat. He is helped in the move by his former colleague, Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke, herself now clearly older than when she was first encountered as a minor character in The Black Book. Rebus will not be alone in his flat, though – he has taken Brillo, the stray dog he acquired a few books ago.

In this book, Rebus spends most of his time away from Edinburgh, summoned up to Wester Ross by a telephone call from Samantha, his largely estranged daughter (flaring additional guilt in Rebus’s already tormented mind when he realises that he had forgotten to tell her that he had moved house). Samantha’s partner, Keith, has gone missing in disturbing circumstances, and she is worried about him. Rebus parks Brillo with Siobhan and coaxes his trusty old Saab up into the desolate far north of Scotland.

Siobhan, meanwhile, has her own new case to investigate, following the murder in Edinburgh of a young Arabian student, who had high society connections. Needless to say, the two investigations eventually intersect, although Rankin manages this deftly, and the reader does not require any suspension of disbelief.

Of course, like his protagonist, Ian Rankin himself is growing older, and he captures Rebus’s changing perspective, and resignation with what life throws at him, very capably. I have driven along a lot of the roads that Rebus travels throughout the far north of Scotland (often in a car of similar vintage to Rebus’s Saab), and Rankin depicts them wonderfully. I know all too well the simultaneous awe at the splendour of the scenery with that gnawing concern at the back of one’s mind about what might happen if your car suddenly broke down.

The grating relationship between Rebus and Samantha is striking, too. Those familiar with the Rebus canon will know that Samantha has been through a lot: kidnapped by a maniac as a young child, knocked down by a hit and run driver, and left struggling through painful physiotherapy before she could be certain she would walk again, and caught in the emotional crossfire between Rebus and his ex-wife. While she calls on Rebus for help, she is still far from welcoming when he arrives, and past hurts contend sharply with current needs.

Rankin always writes well, and all of the Rebus books are entertaining, but I felt that this one rose significantly above its recent predecessors. In fact, I think that this is the best book in the series since Rebus’s initial retirement from the police back in Exit Music. A great success.
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LibraryThing member norinrad10
A Song for the Dark is not one of the great Rebus tales, but that being said, it's still better than 90% of what passes for modern crime fiction.

A retired Rebus is summoned into action when his daughter's partner is murdered, and she's the prime suspect. Meanwhile, long-time partner Siobhan has
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her hands full looking into the perhaps politically motivated murder of a socialite businessman.

What else needs to be said, other than to issue a warning to enjoy author Ian Rankin as long we can. One of the true great literacy masters.
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LibraryThing member smik
Here's a treat for all Rankin fans: with all the old crew summoned to attendance.: John Rebus, Siobhan Clarke and Malcolm Fox. Rebus of course is retired and Siobhan has just been helping him move into a ground floor apartment (his health isn't so good and he has been having trouble climbing
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stairs. Then comes the phone call from his daughter and Rebus drives north to her even though he realises he probably won't be welcome.

Siobhan is on leave, having taken time off to help Rebus move, but there is a murder case which she wants to be part of. And in the way of all good crime fiction, coincidences abound, there are links between Rebus' "new case" and the murder Siobhan is working on. And Malcolm Fox finds himself being snagged by that personification of evil, Big Ger Cafferty.
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LibraryThing member SamSattler
With the exception of a five-year break between Exit Music and Standing in Another Man’s Grave (and the four-year break between the first two books), Ian Rankin has published a new John Rebus novel every year or so since 1987. There are now twenty-three Inspector Rebus novels, and Rankin has
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pretty much aged Rebus in real-time as he adds to the series. If I recall correctly, Rebus is already 41 years old at the beginning of the first novel in the series, so he should be in his mid-sixties now. And it figures that he is now a retired Scottish cop who still thinks of himself as a cop first…and not much else second. But a man suffering from a worsening case of COPD? I don’t think I was quite ready for that one. But considering Rebus’s hard-drinking, heavy-smoking lifestyle, I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised.

John Rebus has never been much of a family man, and since his divorce years earlier, he hasn’t even been much of a father. It’s not that it doesn’t bother him, but Rebus seems to have ever only half-heartedly attempted to mend fences with Samantha, his only daughter. There is a degree of frostiness between the two still even though Samantha now has a daughter of her own. But when Samantha calls her father in a near panic because her partner has gone missing, and she has no one else to turn to, he comes running.

Rebus, who is in the process of moving to his new downstairs flat because he can no longer do the stairs to his old place without stopping for a break or two along the way, immediately drops everything and heads to the Scottish coast to see what he can learn about the missing man. As the old cop he is, Rebus understands that if the man turns up dead, the locals will be looking at his daughter as their prime suspect. He also knows that even if he thinks she is guilty, he is not about to let her go to prison.

Rankin, as he so often does, juggles two separate plot-lines along the way in A Song for the Dark Times until some of the same names start to pop up in both investigations. He keeps his readers in the loop on the Edinburgh investigation via Siobhan Clarke, Rebus’s old protégé, who informally teams up there with another recurring character, the outsider cop Malcom Fox. Both investigations are relatively complicated ones involving multiple investigators and suspects, and in the hands of a lesser-writer it all may have been a little difficult to follow, but that’s a problem you never have with an Ian Rankin novel.

Bottom Line: The five-year break in John Rebus novels happened because Exit Music (2007) was intended to be Rebus’s “last murder case.” The inside of the book jacket even says, “Exit Music marks the final outing for the legendary Inspector John Rebus, and it proves that Edgar Award winner Ian Rankin has saved the very best for last.” But then it happened: six new Rebus novels since 2012. And what a great thing that has been. Rankin has figured out a way to keep Rebus viable and involved while strengthening the Siobhan Clarke and Malcom Fox characters at the same time. Here’s hoping there’s still a lot more to come from Inspector Rebus and his “team” before he has to resign himself to an easy chair and an oxygen machine.

Bonus: This made me laugh in the way it so perfectly describes Rebus’s current status. It’s a scene in which Rebus is trying to convince someone that he is still a cop by claiming he’s really Malcom Fox:

‘Colin, this is Mr. Fox, a detective from Edinburgh,’ Belkin began to explain.
‘Oh, aye?’ He didn’t sound entirely convinced. ‘Bit long in the tooth, aren’t you?’
‘I’m younger than I look.’
‘Bloody well have to be.’ The gardener went to the sink, rinsing his hands and drying them on a towel his wife handed him.
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LibraryThing member Carol420
Our Rebus sees to not only retired but also to have slightly mellowed with age. He’s no longer drinking as heavily, he’s settling into a new apartment and he has the company of a dog…Brillo. He’s also getting the chance to mend some badly damaged fences with his daughter. The story actually
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consists of two mysteries…the murder of a wealthy Saudi student and the disappearance of Rebus’s son-in-law . As Rubus takes off for the Scottish Highlands to do what he does best…catch the bad guys and make them pay…we do have to wonder if John Rebus might be headed for a more permanent retirement than we readers are ready for. I hope Ian Rankin can make this new life that he has Rebus walking into work.
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LibraryThing member maneekuhi
I've read all 23. I didn't care much for the first six, then Rebus came on like gangbusters in #7 "Let It Bleed", and Rankin had a big winner. Made me want to see Edinburgh, visit the Ox. Haven't made it yet. Thinks seemed to slip a bit in retirement, his not mine. Then Song for the Dark Times.
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Great title. Wish I could say the same for the plot.

There are two murders to solve. Unrelated. One is handled by Siobhan and Malcomb. Really liked the rebus/Clarke teaming, never cared for Malcomb.. Rebus has shifted flats, down to the first floor, same building, COPD. No more stairs. One foot in the grave. Rebus' daughter Samantha calls, her ex has been murdered, and she's a suspect. She lives way out there and John takes off to lend an unappreciated hand. Unappreciated by Samantha and by the local investigating cop. Possible links back to incidents post-WWll. Time to dig up old history.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Siobhan and Fox insert themselves into the killing of a young, moneyed ($) Saudi, murdered for unknown reasons. More digging. Suddenly an old bad guy pops up, Big Ger. Silly name. Gets sillier with each book. Big Ger was interesting in a couple of books, but these days he seems old and tired too.

The investigations continue, and continue, and continue. All ends well. Rebus is still breathing on his own as we turn the page and see ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS. Will I read 24? Maybe not, this one was a real struggle.
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LibraryThing member TBCrattie
An enjoyable Rebus novel. The usual characters, who are fun to engage with--Siobhan, Fox, and of course, Cafferty. The plot is quite an interesting one, dealing with camps in Scotland that housed German prisoners during WWII. Rebus remains a compelling character. I give it four stars because I
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would like Rankin to shake up the formula a bit, introduce something new.
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LibraryThing member Steven1958
A double mystery thriller featuring Scottish retired policeman, John Rebus. Well written and presented with very believable characters.
LibraryThing member edwardsgt
Rebus has just moved into a downstairs flat as his COPD slows him down physically, but not mentally. He's hardly moved in with Siobhan's help when his daughter's partner disappears in the wilds of NW Scotland. Cue Rebus tangling with the local police investigators and treading on toes. Meanwhile
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Siobhan finds herself working alongside Malcolm Fox once again on a murder enquiry, which strangely seems to have connections to Rebus daughter's missing partner. Not only that, but Rebus old sparring partner "Big Ger" Cafferty seems to be taking an unhealthy interest in Malcolm Fox. The plot is more than usually complex and working out the details of the numerous characters in Caithness, some of whom were held in a local (fictional) WW2 internment camp, isn't always easy. However, as always, the dialogue of Rebus and the regular characters is never less than entertaining.
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LibraryThing member juju2cat
I adore Ian Rankin's John Rebus. i really dislike it when authors "age" their characters but it's life and Rebus doesn't lose any of his fascination for me. This murder investigation hits close to him as it involved his daughter being the prime suspect. Good book!
LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
I haven't read all the Inspector Rebus novels, but probably have read more than half of them. This is the most recent entry in the series.

Rebus has retired. His COPD has gotten serious, and he has had to move to a flat on the ground floor. His sidekick, Siobhan, still in the department, helps him
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move. He's at odds when he receives a call from his daughter Samantha from her home in northern Scotland--her partner has gone missing. Rebus heads north while Siobhan remains in Edinburg investigating the murder of a wealthy Saudi playboy/student. Could the two cases be connected?

As usual for Rankin, a competent page-turner of a police procedural.

3 stars
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LibraryThing member the.ken.petersen
John Rebus will go on for ever... I HOPE!!!!

Poor old John gets older and more doddery by the tome but, give him a crime and he's like a Rottweiler; his teeth sink in and are immovable, until he's solved it. This tale tells two separate, but entwined, tales that tax JR, and Siobhan & Fox. The
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solutions are both similarly satisfying and I can't wait for the next instalment!
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LibraryThing member PattyLee
Decent Rebus. Better than some recent. There are two non- convergent story lines that seemed like two different short books. That’s my criticism. Flesh them out to two different books. That’s my advice.
LibraryThing member malcrf
The Rankin/Rebus series can be a bit variable, but this is a strong return to form.
LibraryThing member Romonko
When this book begins we see Siobhan filling and moving crates in Rebus' flat. It isn't until a few beats in that we realize Rebus hasn't died, but has just moved to a downstairs suite since he can't manage the stairs anymore with his COPD. This book contains a lot about aging and new beginnings.
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On his first night in his new flat Rebus gets a call from his daughter, telling him that her partner Keith is missing. Rebus right away hops in his old Saab, and heads north to be with his daughter and grand-daughter, and to try to find Keith. Samantha isn't overjoyed to see her father, as they've been semi-estranged for awhile, but that doesn't deter Rebus from making his presence known to everyone in and around the town where Samantha lives. In his usual way, and at risk to himself, he doesn't shy away from treading on people's toes, and also is not afraid to muscle in on the local police force and their investigation. At the same time, Siobhan and Malcom Fox are tracking down the killer of a young university student. As is always the case in these books, the two cases turn out to be somewhat connected and Rebus does a bit of legwork for Siobhan and she does a bit of digging for him. I love how Ian Rankin links two investigations the way he does. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and even though Rebus is no longer a cop, he hasn't lost any of his curmudgeonly manner, and he is still just as sharp as ever. although he moves a little slower. I had waited a little while to read this book, partly because I was afraid that maybe a retired Rebus would slow things down. This did not happen at all. This is a worthy addition to this very excellent series. I listened to the book on audio. and found the narrator to be very entertaining, especially because of his Scottish accent. James Mcpherson does a wonderful job narrating, and that added to my enjoyment of the story greatly/
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LibraryThing member JBD1
Perfectly enjoyable Rebus tale. Better than some of the other ones I've read in recent years.


Theakstons Old Peculier Prize (Longlist — 2021)


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