Ian Rankin's John Rebus, arguably the most realistic detective in crime fiction, is a brilliant but troubled man. When a young woman goes missing near his native Edinburgh, Scotland, Rebus finds himself just one small cog in the huge wheel of an inquiry set in motion by her powerfully rich father. Struggling to deal with both his own often-terrifying inner demons as well as the monstrous bureaucracy of the investigative team, Rebus finds himself drawn again and again into the case, desperately searching for the girl's salvation, as well as his own.
In time Rebus uncovers two leads: one, a carved wooden doll stuffed tightly into a tiny casket, and the other the missing girl's possible involvement in a dark, disturbing Internet-based role-playing game. He enlists the help of the tech-savvy DC Siobhan Clarke, who is young enough to know her way around the net, but who may not be old and wise enough to avoid potentially deadly pitfalls and traps. Meanwhile, Rebus tracks down stories of similar caskets and dolls turning up in the area deep into Edinburgh's past, some stretching back to a time when body-snatchers turned into brutal killers.
As Rebus and Clarke delve deeper and deeper into these perilous and obscure worlds, ancient and modern evils begin to converge and soon Rebus finds he's besieged by an impenetrable mass of secrets, lies, and deadly deceit that only he can make sense of. In The Falls, a brilliant addition to an award-winning series, both John Rebus and his creator, Ian Rankin, are at the top of their intense and satisfying form.
About the Author
Ian Rankin is the worldwide #1 bestselling writer of the Inspector Rebus books, including Knots and Crosses, Hide and Seek, Let It Bleed, Black and Blue, Set in Darkness, Resurrection Men, A Question of Blood and Exit Music. He is also the author of The Complaints and Doors Open. He has won an Edgar Award, a Gold Dagger for fiction, a Diamond Dagger for career excellence, and the Chandler-Fulbright Award. He has been elected a Hawthornden Fellow, and received the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his contributions to literature. He graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1982. He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, with his wife and their two sons.
Hometown:Edinburgh, London and France
Date of Birth:April 28, 1960
Place of Birth:Cardenden, Scotland
Read an Excerpt
By Ian Rankin
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2000 Ian Rankin
All rights reserved.
"You think I killed her, don't you?"
He sat well forward on the sofa, head slumped in towards his chest. His hair was lank, long-fringed. Both knees worked like pistons, the heels of his grubby trainers never meeting the floor.
"You on anything, David?" Rebus asked.
The young man looked up. His eyes were bloodshot, dark-rimmed. A lean, angular face, bristles on the unshaved chin. His name was David Costello. Not Dave or Davy: David, he'd made that clear. Names, labels, classification: all very important. The media had varied its descriptions of him. He was "the boyfriend," "the tragic boyfriend," "the missing student's boyfriend." He was "David Costello, 22" or "fellow student David Costello, in his early twenties." He "shared a flat with Ms. Balfour" or was "a frequent visitor" to the "disappearance riddle flat."
Nor was the flat just a flat. It was "the flat in Edinburgh's fashionable New Town," the "quarter-million flat owned by Ms. Balfour's parents." John and Jacqueline Balfour were "the numbed family," "the shocked banker and his wife." Their daughter was "Philippa, 20, a student of art history at the University of Edinburgh." She was "pretty," "vivacious," "carefree," "full of life."
And now she was missing.
Detective Inspector John Rebus shifted position, from in front of the marble fireplace to slightly to one side of it. David Costello's eyes followed the move.
"The doctor gave me some pills," he said, finally answering the question.
"Did you take them?" Rebus asked.
The young man shook his head slowly, eyes still on Rebus.
"Don't blame you," Rebus said, sliding his hands into his pockets. "Knock you out for a few hours, but they don't change anything."
It was two days since Philippa — known to friends and family as "Flip" — had gone missing. Two days wasn't long, but her disappearance was out of character. Friends had called the flat at around seven in the evening to confirm that Flip would be meeting up with them within the hour at a bar on the South Side. It was one of those small, trendy places which had sprung up around the university, catering to an economic boom and the need for dim lighting and overpriced flavoured vodkas. Rebus knew this because he'd walked past it a couple of times on his way to and from his place of work. There was an old-fashioned pub practically next door, with vodka mixers at a pound-fifty. No trendy chairs though, and serving staff who knew their way around a brawl but not a cocktail list.
Seven, seven fifteen, she probably left the flat. Tina, Trist, Camille and Albie were already on their second round of drinks. Rebus had consulted the files to confirm those names. Trist was short for Tristram, and Albie was Albert. Trist was with Tina; Albie was with Camille. Flip should have been with David, but David, she explained on the phone, wouldn't be joining them.
"Another bust-up," she'd said, not sounding too concerned.
She'd set the flat's alarm before leaving. That was another first for Rebus — student digs with an alarm. And she'd done the mortice lock as well as the Yale, leaving the flat secure. Down a single flight of stairs and out into the warm night air. A steep hill separated her from Princes Street. Another climb from there would take her to the Old Town, the South Side. No way she'd be walking. But records from her home telephone and mobile had failed to find a match for any taxi firm in the city. So if she'd taken one, she'd hailed it on the street.
If she'd got as far as hailing one.
"I didn't, you know," David Costello said.
"Didn't what, sir?"
"Didn't kill her."
"Nobody's saying you did."
"No?" He looked up again, directly into Rebus's eyes.
"No," Rebus assured him, that being his job after all.
"The search warrant ..." Costello began.
"It's standard, any case of this kind," Rebus explained. It was, too: suspicious disappearance, you checked all the places the person might be. You went by the book: all the paperwork signed, clearance given. You searched the boyfriend's flat. Rebus could have added: we do it because nine times out of ten, it's someone the victim knows. Not a stranger, plucking prey from the night. It was your loved ones who killed you: spouse, lover, son or daughter. It was your uncle, your closest friend, the one person you trusted. They'd been cheating on you, or you'd cheated them. You knew something, you had something. They were jealous, spurned, needed money.
If Flip Balfour was dead, her body would turn up soon; if she was alive and didn't want to be found, then the job would be more difficult. Her parents had appeared on TV, pleading with her to make contact. Police were at the family home, intercepting calls in case any ransom demand should arrive. Police were wandering through David Costello's flat on the Canongate, hoping to turn up something. And police were here — in Flip Balfour's flat. They were "babysitting" David Costello — stopping the media from getting too close. This was what the young man had been told, and it was partly true.
Flip's flat had been searched the previous day. Costello had keys, even to the alarm system. The phone call to Costello's own flat had come at ten p.m.: Trist, asking if he'd heard from Flip, only she'd been on her way to Shapiro's and hadn't turned up.
"She's not with you, is she?"
"I'm the last person she'd come to," Costello had complained.
"Heard you'd fallen out. What is it this time?" Trist's voice had been slurred, ever-so-slightly amused. Costello hadn't answered him. He'd cut the call and tried Flip's mobile, got her answering service, left a message asking her to phone him. Police had listened to the recording, concentrating on nuance, trying to read falseness into each word or phrase. Trist had phoned Costello again at midnight. The group had been to Flip's flat: no one home. They'd been ringing round, but none of her friends seemed to know anything. They waited until Costello himself arrived at the flat, unlocking it. No sign of Flip inside.
In their minds, she was already a Missing Person, what police called a "MisPer," but they'd waited till next morning before calling Flip's mother at the family home in East Lothian. Mrs. Balfour had wasted no time, dialling 999 immediately. After receiving what she felt was short shrift from the police switchboard, she'd called her husband at his London office. John Balfour was the senior partner in a private bank, and if the Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders Police wasn't a client, someone certainly was: within an hour, officers were on the case — orders from the Big House, meaning Force HQ in Fettes Avenue.
David Costello had unlocked the flat for the two CID men. Within, they found no signs of a disturbance, no clues as to Philippa Balfour's whereabouts, fate, or state of mind. It was a tidy flat: stripped floors, fresh paint on the walls. (The decorator was being interviewed, too.) The drawing room was large, with twin windows rising from floor level. There were two bedrooms, one turned into a study. The designer kitchen was smaller than the pine-panelled bathroom. There was a lot of David Costello's stuff in the bedroom. Someone had piled his clothes on a chair, then placed some books and CDs on top, crowning the structure with a washbag.
When asked, Costello could only assume it was Flip's work. His words: "We'd had a falling-out. This was probably her way of dealing with it." Yes, they'd had arguments before, but no, she'd never piled up all his stuff, not that he could remember.
John Balfour had travelled to Scotland by private jet — loaned him by an understanding client — and was at the New Town flat almost before the police.
"Well?" had been his first question. Costello himself offered an answer: "I'm sorry."
Much had been read into those words by CID officers, discussing the case in private. An argument with your girlfriend turns nasty; next you know, she's dead; you hide the body but, confronted by her father, innate breeding takes over and you blurt out a semiconfession.
So many ways to read those two short words. Sorry we argued; sorry you've been troubled; sorry this has happened; sorry I didn't look after her; sorry for what I've done ...
And now David Costello's parents were in town, too. They'd taken two rooms at one of the best hotels. They lived on the outskirts of Dublin. The father, Thomas, was described as "independently wealthy," while the mother, Theresa, worked as an interior designer.
Two rooms: there'd been some discussion back at St. Leonard's as to why they'd need two rooms. But then, when David was their only son, why did they bother to live in an eight-bedroom house?
There'd been even more discussion about what St. Leonard's was doing in a New Town case. The nearest cop shop to the flat was Gayfield Square, but additional officers had been drafted in from Leith, St. Leonard's and Torphichen.
"Someone's been pulling strings," was the universal view. "Drop everything, some posh bit's done a runner."
Privately, Rebus didn't disagree.
"Do you want anything?" he said now. "Tea? Coffee?"
Costello shook his head.
"Mind if I ...?"
Costello looked at him, seeming not to understand. Then realisation dawned. "Go ahead," he said. "The kitchen's ..." He started to gesture.
"I know where it is, thanks," Rebus said. He closed the door after him and stood for a moment in the hallway, glad to be out of the stifling drawing room. His temples throbbed and the nerves behind his eyes felt stretched. There were sounds coming from the study. Rebus stuck his head round the door.
"I'm putting the kettle on."
"Good idea." Detective Constable Siobhan Clarke didn't take her eyes from the computer screen.
"I meant —"
"Nothing yet. Letters to friends, some of her essays. I've got about a thousand e-mails to go through. Her password would help."
"Mr. Costello says she never told him."
Clarke cleared her throat.
"What does that mean?" Rebus asked.
"It means my throat's tickly," Clarke said. "Just milk in mine, thanks."
Rebus left her and went into the kitchen, filled the kettle and searched for mugs and tea-bags.
"When can I go home?"
Rebus turned to where Costello was standing in the hall.
"Might be better if you didn't," Rebus told him. "Reporters and cameras ... they'll keep on at you, phoning day and night."
"I'll take the phone off the hook."
"Be like being a prisoner." Rebus watched the young man shrug. He said something Rebus didn't catch.
"I can't stay here," Costello repeated.
"I don't know ... it's just ..." He shrugged again, ran his hands through his hair, pulling it back from his forehead. "Flip should be here. It's almost too much. I keep remembering that the last time we were here together, we were having a row."
"What was it about?"
Costello laughed hollowly. "I can't even remember."
"This was the day she disappeared?"
"The afternoon, yes. I stormed out."
"You argue a lot then?" Rebus tried to make the question sound casual.
Costello just stood there, staring into space, head shaking slowly. Rebus turned away, separated two Darjeeling tea-bags and dropped them into the mugs. Was Costello unravelling? Was Siobhan Clarke listening from behind the study door? They were babysitting Costello, yes, part of a team running three eight-hour shifts, but they'd brought him here for another reason, too. Ostensibly, he was on hand to explain names that occurred in Philippa Balfour's correspondence. But Rebus had wanted him there because just maybe it was the scene of the crime. And just maybe David Costello had something to hide. The betting at St. Leonard's was even money; you could get two-to-one at Torphichen, while Gayfield had him odds-on favourite.
"Your parents said you could move into their hotel," Rebus said. He turned to face Costello. "They've booked two rooms, so one's probably going spare."
Costello didn't take the bait. He watched the detective for a few seconds more, then turned away, putting his head around the study door.
"Have you found what you're looking for?" he asked.
"It could take some time, David," Siobhan said. "Best just to let us get on with it."
"You won't find any answers in there." He meant the computer screen. When she didn't answer, he straightened a little and angled his head. "You're some sort of expert, are you?"
"It's something that has to be done." Her voice was quiet, as though she didn't want it to carry beyond the room.
He seemed about to add something, but thought better of it, and stalked back towards the drawing room instead. Rebus took Clarke's tea through.
"Now that's class," she said, examining the tea-bag floating in the mug.
"Wasn't sure how strong you'd want it," Rebus explained. "What did you think?" She considered for a moment. "Seems genuine enough."
"Maybe you're just a sucker for a pretty face."
She snorted, fished the tea-bag out and tipped it into the wastebin. "Maybe," she said. "So what's your thinking?"
"Press conference tomorrow," Rebus reminded her. "Reckon we can persuade Mr. Costello to make a public appeal?"
Two detectives from Gayfield Square had the evening shift. Rebus headed home and started to fill a bath. He felt like a long soak, and squeezed some washing-up liquid under the hot tap, remembering it was something his parents had done for him when he was a kid. You came in muddy from the football pitch, and it was a hot bath with washing-up liquid. It wasn't that the family couldn't afford bubble-bath: "It's just washing liquid at a posh price," his mother had said.
Philippa Balfour's bathroom had boasted over a dozen different "balms," "bathing lotions" and "foaming oils." Rebus did his own stock-take: razor, shaving cream, toothpaste and a single toothbrush, plus a bar of soap. In the medicine cabinet: sticking plasters, paracetamol and a packet of condoms. He looked in the packet — one left. The sell-by was the previous summer. When he closed the cabinet, he met the gaze of his reflection. Grey-faced, hair streaked grey, too. Jowly, even when he stuck out his chin. Tried smiling, saw teeth which had missed their last two appointments. His dentist was threatening to strike him from his list.
"Get in line, pal," Rebus muttered, turning away from the mirror before undressing.
The retirement party for Detective Chief Superintendent "Farmer" Watson had commenced at six. It was actually the third or fourth party of its kind, but was to be the last — and the only official gathering. The Police Club on Leith Walk had been decked out with streamers, balloons and a huge banner which read FROM UNDER ARREST TO A WELL-DESERVED REST. Someone had dumped a bale of straw on the dance-floor, completing the farmyard scene with an inflatable pig and sheep. The bar was doing roaring business when Rebus arrived. He'd passed a trio of departing Big House brass on his way in. Checked his watch: six forty. They'd given the retiring DCS forty minutes of their valuable time.
There'd been a presentation earlier in the day at St. Leonard's. Rebus had missed it; he'd been babysitting at the time. But he'd heard about the speech made by Assistant Chief Constable Colin Carswell. Several officers from the Farmer's previous postings — some now retired themselves — were on hand to say a few words. They'd stuck around for the evening's proceedings, and looked to have been drinking the afternoon away: ties discarded or hanging limply askew, faces shiny with alcoholic heat. One man was singing, his voice battling the music from the ceiling-mounted loudspeakers.
"What can I get you, John?" the Farmer said, leaving his table to join Rebus at the bar.
"Maybe a small whisky, sir."
"Half-bottle of malt over here when you've a minute!" the Farmer roared at the barman, who was busy topping up pints of lager. The Farmer's eyes narrowed as he focused on Rebus. "Did you see those buggers from the Big House?"
"Passed them as I came in."
"Bloody orange juices all round, then a quick handshake before home." The Farmer was concentrating on not slurring his words, overcompensating as a result. "Never really understood the phrase 'biscuit-ersed' before, but that's what those lot were: biscuit-ersed to a man!"
Rebus smiled, told the barman to make it an Ardbeg.
"A bloody double, mind," the Farmer ordered.
"Been enjoying a drink yourself, sir?" Rebus asked.
Excerpted from The Falls by Ian Rankin. Copyright © 2000 Ian Rankin. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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