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Originally published Friday, January 25, 2013 at 5:00 AM

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Detective John Rebus returns

In Ian Rankin’s new John Rebus mystery, “Standing in Another Man’s Grave,” the retired Edinburgh detective returns to active duty to investigate a series of killings of young women. Rankin appears Tuesday at the Kirkland Public Library.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Ian Rankin

The author of “Standing in Another Man’s Grave” will read at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Kirkland Public Library (sponsored by the University Bookstore), 308 Kirkland Ave., Kirkland. Co-sponsored by the University Book Store; free (206-634-3400 or www.ubookstore.com).

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John Rebus may be retired, but he’s hasn’t changed much. The former Edinburgh police detective remains one of crime fiction’s crankiest, most interestingly complex figures: hard drinking, chain-smoking, dogged — and incapable of playing nice with his superiors, respecting the rules, or staying out of trouble.

Ian Rankin, Scotland’s premier crime novelist, put Rebus out to pasture in 2009, choosing to focus on a series about Malcolm Fox, who heads “The Complaints,” the police department’s internal-affairs department. But now Rankin’s brought Rebus back in “Standing in Another Man’s Grave” (Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown, 400 pp., $25.99).

The cop is now a consultant working on cold cases, and he has a doozy. Nina Hazlitt is desperate to find her daughter, who’s been missing for several years. Hazlitt is convinced the young woman was murdered, and she persuades Rebus to reopen the case.

Hazlitt says she sees a pattern: the details of her daughter’s disappearance strikingly resemble those of several other young women. Notably, all were last seen on a little-traveled stretch of rural highway.

The investigation takes the initially skeptical Rebus far from the seamy side of Edinburgh, his usual turf. Instead, he heads into Scotland’s bleak, underpopulated north country. (At one point, he wonders if he’d ever been so far from a pub.)

Mostly Rebus drives the roads alone with his thoughts: About his role as a dinosaur in a new world of streamlined police work. About his estranged daughter. About the future of Scotland.

And, not insignificantly, about the recent deaths of some of his most-beloved (real-life) musicians. (The book’s title plays on a lyric by the Scottish musician Jackie Leven, who died last year). Music has been a persistent theme in Rankin’s work, but now the key is minor, soulful, and sad.

Accompanying Rebus some of the time is his former colleague Siobhan Clarke. Now a rising star in the police force, Clarke is deeply fond of Rebus, even though his renegade ways make her crazy. (Rebus takes great pleasure in driving his and Clarke’s superior officer, a button-down bean counter, even crazier.)

One aspect of the ex-cop’s defiant nature is a refusal to drop his relationship with Big Ger Cafferty, a top gangster who once was an enemy but now occasionally joins Rebus for a wee drink or three. Their wary friendship draws the attention of Fox, the internal-affairs man, who has a supporting role here and is determined to see Rebus gone. Cafferty, it turns out, will play a crucial role in Rebus’ case.

The plot is not intricate by Rankin’s standards, which may disappoint some fans. The recitations of towns that Rebus passes through are overlong. And there’s one oddly false note: Fox comes across (as he doesn’t in the books that star him) as a humorless killjoy. But these are minor points. Overall, we can rejoice in Rebus’ return — the mean streets of Edinburgh are better for it.

Adam Woog’s column on crime and mystery fiction appears on the second Sunday of the month in The Seattle Times.

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