About the Author
Hometown:Edinburgh, London and France
Date of Birth:April 28, 1960
Place of Birth:Cardenden, Scotland
Read an Excerpt
Fleshmarket AlleyAn Inspector Rebus Novel
By Ian Rankin
Little Brown and CompanyCopyright © 2006 Ian Rankin
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI'm not supposed to be here," Detective Inspector John Rebus said. Not that anyone was listening.
Knoxland was a housing scheme on the western edge of Edinburgh, off Rebus's patch. He was there because the West End guys were shorthanded. He was also there because his own bosses couldn't think what to do with him. It was a rainy Monday afternoon, and nothing about the day so far boded anything but ill for the rest of the working week. Rebus's old police station, his happy hunting ground these past eight or so years, had seen itself reorganized. As a result, it no longer boasted a CID office, meaning Rebus and his fellow detectives had been cast adrift, shipped out to other stations. He'd ended up at Gayfield Square, just off Leith Walk: a cushy number, according to some. Gayfield Square was on the periphery of the elegant New Town, behind whose eighteenth- and nineteenth-century facades anything could be happening without those outside being any the wiser. It certainly felt a long way from Knoxland, farther than the three factual miles. It was another culture, another country.
Knoxland had been built in the 1960s, apparently from papier-mmch? and balsa wood. Walls so thin you could hear theneighbors cutting their toenails and smell their dinner on the stove. Patches of damp bloomed on its gray concrete walls. Graffiti had turned the place into "Hard Knox." Other embellishments warned the "Pakis" to "Get Out," while a scrawl that was probably only an hour or so old bore the legend "One Less." What shops there were had resorted to metal grilles on windows and doors, not even bothering to remove them during opening hours. The place itself was contained, hemmed in by divided highways to north and west. The bright-eyed developers had scooped out underpasses beneath the roads. Probably in their original drawings, these had been clean, welllit spaces where neighbors would stop to chat about the weather and the new curtains in the window of number 42. In reality, they'd become nogo areas for everyone but the foolhardy and suicidal, even in daytime. Rebus was forever seeing reports of bag snatchings and muggings.
It was probably those same bright-eyed developers who'd had the idea of naming the estate's various high-rise blocks after Scottish writers, and appending each with the word "House," serving merely to rub in that these were nothing like real houses.
Barrie House. Stevenson House. Scott House. Burns House.
Reaching skywards with all the subtlety of single-digit salutes. He looked around for somewhere to deposit his half-empty coffee cup. He'd stopped at a baker's on Gorgie Road, knowing that the farther from the city center he drove, the less likely he would be to find anything remotely drinkable. Not a good choice: the coffee had been scalding at first, quickly turning tepid, which only served to highlight its lack of anything resembling flavor. There were no bins nearby; no bins at all, in fact. The sidewalks and grass verges, however, were doing their best to oblige, so Rebus added his litter to the mosaic, then straightened up and pushed his hands deep into his coat pockets. He could see his breath in the air.
"Papers are going to have a field day with this," someone was muttering. There were a dozen figures shuffling around in the covered walkway between two of the high-rise blocks. The place smelled faintly of urine, human or otherwise. Plenty of dogs in the vicinity, one or two even wearing collars. They would come sniffing at the entrance to the walkway, until chased off by one of the uniforms. Crime-scene tape now blocked both ends of the passage. Kids on bikes were craning their necks for a look. Police photographers were gathering evidence, vying for space with the forensic team. They were dressed in white overalls, heads covered. An anonymous gray van was parked alongside the police cars on the muddy play area outside. Its driver had complained to Rebus that some kids had demanded money from him to keep an eye on it.
"Bloody sharks." Soon, this driver would take the body to the mortuary, where the post- mortem examination would take place. But already they knew they were dealing with homicide. Multiple stab wounds, including one to the throat. The trail of blood showed that the victim had been attacked ten or twelve feet farther into the passage. He'd probably tried to get away, crawling towards the light, his attacker making more lunges as he faltered and fell. "Nothing in the pockets except some loose change," another detective was saying. "Let's hope someone knows who he is ..."
Rebus didn't know who he was, but he knew what he was: he was a case, a statistic. More than that, he was a story, and even now the city's journalists would be scenting it, for all the world like a pack sensing its quarry. Knoxland was not a popular estate. It tended to attract only the desperate and those with no choice in the matter. In the past, it had been used as a dumping ground for tenants the council found hard to house elsewhere: addicts and the unhinged. More recently, immigrants had been catapulted into its dankest, least welcoming corners. Asylum seekers, refugees. People nobody really wanted to think about or have to deal with. Looking around, Rebus realized that the poor bastards must be left feeling like mice in a maze. The difference being that in laboratories, there were few predators, while out here in the real world, they were everywhere.
They carried knives. They roamed at will. They ran the streets. And now they had killed.
Another car drew up, a figure emerging from it. Rebus knew the face: Steve Holly, local hack for a Glasgow tabloid. Overweight and bustling, hair gelled into spikes. Before locking his car, Holly tucked his laptop under his arm, ready to bring it with him. Street-savvy, that was Steve Holly. He nodded at Rebus.
"Got anything for me?" Rebus shook his head, and Holly started looking around for other more likely sources. "Heard you'd been kicked out of St. Leonard's," he said, as if making conversation, eyes everywhere but on Rebus. "Don't tell me they've dumped you out here?"
Rebus knew better than to rise to it, but Holly was beginning to enjoy himself. "Dumping ground just about sums this place up. School of hard knocks, eh?" Holly started to light a cigarette, and Rebus knew he was thinking of the story he'd be writing later on: dreaming up punning sentences and scraps of two-penny philosophy.
"Asian bloke, I heard," the journalist said at last, blowing smoke and offering the pack to Rebus.
"We don't know yet," Rebus admitted: his words the price of a cigarette. Holly lit it for him. "Tan-skinned ... could be from anywhere."
"Anywhere except Scotland," Holly said with a smile. "Race crime, though, got to be. Only a matter of time before we had one." Rebus knew why he stressed the "we": he meant Edinburgh. Glasgow had had at least one race murder, an asylum seeker trying to live his life on one of that city's thick-skinned estates. Stabbed to death, just like the victim in front of them here, who, searched and studied and photographed, was now being placed in a body bag. There was silence during the procedure: a momentary mark of respect by professionals who would thereafter get on with the job of finding the killer. The bag was lifted onto a trolley, then wheeled beneath the cordon and past Rebus and Holly.
"You in charge?" Holly asked quietly. Rebus shook his head again, watching the body being loaded into the van. "Give me a clue then-who is it I should be speaking to?"
"I shouldn't even be here," Rebus said, turning away to make for the relative safety of his car.
I'm one of the lucky ones, Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke was thinking to herself, by which she meant that she at least had been given a desk of her own. John Rebus-senior in rank to her - hadn't been so fortunate. Not that fortune, good or bad, had had anything to do with it. She knew Rebus saw it as a sign from on high: we've no place for you; time you thought of chucking it in. He'd be on the full police pension by now-officers younger than him, with fewer years on the force, were throwing in their cards and readying to cash their chips. He'd known exactly the message the bosses had wanted him to take. So had Siobhan, who'd offered him her own desk. He'd refused, of course, said he was happy to share whatever space was available, which came to mean a table by the photocopier, where mugs, coffee, and sugar were kept. The kettle was on the adjacent window ledge. There was a box of copier paper under the table, and a broken-backed chair which creaked in complaint when sat upon. No telephone, not even a wall socket for one. No computer.
"Temporary, of course," Detective Chief Inspector James Macrae had explained. "Not easy, trying to make space for new bodies ..."
To which Rebus had responded with a smile and a shrug, Siobhan realizing that he daren't speak: Rebus's own particular form of anger management. Bottle it all up for later. The same issues of space explained why her desk was in with the detective constables. There was a separate office for the detective sergeants, who shared with the clerical assistant, but no room there for Siobhan or Rebus. The Detective Inspector, meantime, had a small office of his own, between the two. Ah, there was the rub: Gayfield already had a DI; had no need of another. His name was Derek Starr, and he was tall, blond, and good-looking. Problem was, he knew it. One lunchtime, he'd taken Siobhan for a meal at his club. It was called The Hallion and was a five-minute walk away. She hadn't dared ask how much it cost to join. Turned out he'd taken Rebus there, too.
"Because he can," had been Rebus's summing up. Starr was on the way up, and wanted both new arrivals to know it.
Her own desk was fine. She did have a computer, which Rebus was welcome to use whenever he liked. And she had a phone. Across the aisle from her sat Detective Constable Phyllida Hawes. They'd worked together on a couple of cases, even though they'd been in different divisions. Siobhan was ten years Hawes's junior, but senior to her in rank. So far, this hadn't seemed an issue, and Siobhan was hoping it would stay that way. There was another DC in the room. His name was Colin Tibbet: midtwenties, Siobhan reckoned, which made him a few years younger than her. Nice smile, which often showed a row of smallish, rounded teeth. Hawes had already accused her of fancying him, couching it in jokey terms, but only just.
"I'm not in the baby-snatching business," Siobhan had responded. "So you like the more mature man?" Hawes had teased, glancing in the direction of the photocopier.
"Don't be daft," Siobhan had said, knowing she was meaning Rebus. At the end of a case a few months back, Siobhan had found herself in Rebus's arms, being kissed by him. Nobody else knew, and it had never been discussed between them. Yet it hung over them whenever they were alone together. Well ... hung over her anyway; you could never tell with John Rebus.
Phyllida Hawes was walking to the photocopier now, asking where DI Rebus had disappeared to.
"Got a call," Siobhan answered. It was as much as she knew, but the look Hawes gave indicated that she thought Siobhan was holding back. Tibbet cleared his throat.
"There's a body been found in Knoxland. It's just come up on the computer." He tapped his screen as if to confirm this. "Here's hoping it's not a turf war."
Siobhan nodded slowly. Less than a year back, a drug gang had tried muscling in on the estate, leading to a series of stabbings, abductions, and reprisals. The incomers had been from Northern Ireland, rumors of paramilitary connections. Most of them were in jail now.
"Not our problem, is it?" Hawes was saying. "One of the few things we've got going for us here ... no schemes like Knoxland in the vicinity." Which was true enough. Gayfield Square was mostly a city center operation: shoplifters and troublemakers on Princes Street; Saturday-night drunks; break-ins in the New Town.
"Bit like a holiday for you, eh, Siobhan?" Hawes added with a grin. "St. Leonard's had its moments," Siobhan was forced to agree. Back when the move was announced, word was she'd end up at HQ. She didn't know how that rumor had started, but after a week or so it had begun to feel real. But then Detective Chief Superintendent Gill Templer had asked to see her, and suddenly she was going to Gayfield Square. She'd tried not to feel it as a blow, but that was what it had been. Templer herself, on the other hand, was bound for HQ. Others were dispersed as far afield as Balerno and East Lothian, a few opting for retirement. Only Siobhan and Rebus would be moving to Gayfield Square.
"And just when we were getting the hang of the job," Rebus had complained, emptying the contents of his desk drawers into a large cardboard box. "Still, look on the bright side: longer lies for you in the morning." True, her flat was five minutes' walk away. No more rush-hour drives through the center of town. It was one of the few bonuses she could think of ... maybe even the only one. They'd been a team at St. Leonard's, and the building had been in much better shape than the current drab edifice. The CID room had been larger and brighter, and here there was a ... She breathed in deeply through her nostrils. Well, a smell. She couldn't quite place it. It wasn't body odor or the packet of cheese-and-pickle sandwiches Tibbet brought to work with him each day. It seemed to be coming from the building itself. One morning, alone in the room, she'd even placed her nose to the walls and floor, but there seemed no specific source for the smell. There were even times when it vanished altogether, only to reappear by degrees. The radiators? The insulation? She'd given up trying to explain it and hadn't said anything to anyone, not even Rebus. Her phone rang, and she picked it up. "CID," she said into the mouthpiece. "Front desk here. Got a couple who'd like a word with DS Clarke." Siobhan frowned. "Asked for me specifically?"
"That's right." "What are their names?" She reached for a notepad and pen. "Mr. and Mrs. Jardine. They said to tell you they're from Banehall." Siobhan stopped writing. She knew who they were. "Tell them I'll be right there." She ended the call and lifted her jacket from the back of her chair.
"Another deserter?" Hawes said. "Anybody'd think our company wasn't wanted, Col." She winked at Tibbet. "Visitors to see me," Siobhan explained.
"Bring them in," Hawes invited, opening her arms wide. "More the merrier."
"I'll see," Siobhan said. As she left the room, Hawes was stabbing the photocopier button again, Tibbet reading something on his computer screen, lips moving silently. No way she was bringing the Jardines in here. That background odor, and the mustiness, and the view over the car park ... the Jardines deserved something better. Me, too, she couldn't help thinking.
It was three years since she'd seen them. They hadn't aged well.
Excerpted from Fleshmarket Alley by Ian Rankin Copyright © 2006 by Ian Rankin. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.