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The Falls    by Ian Rankin order for
by Ian Rankin
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2001 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Attending a retirement party for ex-boss 'Farmer' Watson, Inspector John Rebus begins to worry about how much time he himself has left on the job. But he doesn't brood for long as he soon has his teeth sunk into a new and puzzling investigation. Philippa 'Flip' Balfour, university student and scion of a wealthy banking family, has disappeared under the usual suspicious circumstances, and the pressure is on to track her down quickly.

Rebus' life is never simple and his job situation just got stickier. He once had a brief fling with his new boss, DCS Gill Templer. Anxious to prove herself, she's off to a hard-nosed start. She warns Rebus about his drinking, schedules a medical for him, and sets up the over-ambitious Ellen Wylie, to embarrass herself as liaison officer with the press. At the same time, DC Siobhan Clarke, who has been emerging as the most interesting secondary character in the series, seems to be emulating Rebus in her approach to the job, risking becoming as much of an outsider as he is.

Rebus feels sidelined when the DCS sends him to investigate the discovery of a small wooden coffin containing a carved doll. It was found at the Falls, near the Balfour family estate. The Inspector soon uncovers links to previous deaths and disappearances, in which similar miniature coffins have been found on the scene. In the process, he meets and romances Jean Burchill, a friend of Gill's and a curator of the Museum of Scotland. There are fascinating links to Edinburgh history and the story of Burke and Hare who sold the bodies of their murder victims to anatomists in the 1800's.

To balance the murky history, Rankin throws in some high tech finagling. It turns out that Flip was involved in an email role-playing game run by the Quizmaster. Siobhan borrows career officer Grant Hood's computer to contact this elusive figure, who sets timed challenges for her with clues like 'seven fins high is king'. These puzzles demand knowledge of both Scottish history and locations. Siobhan is soon enmeshed in the game, enlisting technical help from Eric 'Brains' Bain, an interesting addition to the series.

Although I always enjoy time spent with Rebus and Rankin, I found The Falls to be the best yet. The Inspector is developing an interesting paternal / mentor relationship with Siobhan, and also playing 'Sir Galahad' in Ellen Wylie's difficulties with the new DCS. As usual he barely scrapes through his own scuffles with superiors, rescued by his peers and his consistent talent for solving crime. Self-styled rebel Rebus even seems to be showing a few signs of being a team player, a most surprising development.

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