Cover image of "Tooth and Nail," a novel about a serial murderer

A serial murderer dubbed The Wolfman by the press has killed and mutilated three women in London, one a month. The pressure is on the police to catch the killer before panic spreads further. Now, someone at New Scotland Yard has written to Edinburgh to request help from Inspector John Rebus, much to his surprise. Whoever it is has mistaken Rebus for an expert on serial murder, because the difficult case he had solved was very personal and held few lessons for other investigators. But orders are orders. And no sooner does he arrive in London than he learns from the radio that The Wolfman has killed a fourth woman.

Thus opens Tooth and Nail, the third novel in Ian Rankin‘s venerable series of detective novels featuring Inspector Rebus. The trouble starts virtually as soon as Rebus makes contact with Inspector George Flight, who has been assigned as his partner: Flight can’t understand a word he says because of Rebus’ strong Scottish accent. Practically everyone else in the homicide department resents his having been called in—and they’re not the least bit shy about showing it. They can’t understand him, either.

Tooth and Nail (Inspector Rebus #3) by Ian Rankin ★★★★☆

No reader of the series will be surprised to learn that matters soon go further downhill. The disagreeable Scot manages to alienate all his new colleagues at Scotland Yard by ignoring established procedure and disappearing without explanation to investigate on his own. Since this is fiction, we’re confident that Inspector Rebus will eventually identify and catch the killer, and in short order. However, there’s a great deal of confusion and conflict before that happens, and Rebus is saved from arrest himself only because he manages to resolve the case.

In a sense, Tooth and Nail is a traditional whodunit, since many suspects surface in the course of the investigation and Rebus’ job, above all, is to sort through them to find the one who is guilty. But Rankin is a much more skillful writer than most. He manages to create a credible portrait of his difficult hero and to convey a sense that he fully understands police procedure. This is one detective novel that’s genuinely suspenseful to the end. The conclusion took me by surprise—and that doesn’t happen all that often. This is a very satisfying read.

This is one of the many Mysteries and thrillers set in Scotland that I’ve reviewed here.

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