Press Association, October 12 2004

Fleshmarket Close, by Ian Rankin. Published in hardback by Orion, price £17.99. Available now

Cockle-picking is not one of Edinburgh’s more promising industries. Ian Rankin is honest enough to admit that. When DI Rebus goes out to Leith in search of a slave-labour gang, he passes a sign on the beach warning that shellfish caught there will be unfit for human consumption. But given the care and passion with which Fleshmarket Close tries to bring home the issue of immigration, there’s no reason to begrudge Rankin his echo of Morecambe Bay.

For this book, Rebus and the ever more prominent DS Siobhan Clarke are themselves displaced persons, perched at a station on the edge of the New Town after their old base in St Leonard’s was broken up. They are both pursuing cases out of territory: Rebus, the murder of an unidentified dark-skinned man on a sink estate tense after the arrival of asylum-seekers; Clarke, the disappearance of a girl whose older sister committed suicide after rape. The stories link – many of the missing girl’s friends work at an immigration detention centre – but not as thoroughly or as neatly as you might expect. And either would be strong enough for a novel of its own.

Rankin seems to be pushing some of the limits of his franchise. Rebus is hanging on past the usual retirement date. Clarke is becoming a co-hero, rather than a replacement. And the Edinburgh underworld is being thickened with troubles felt more powerfully elsewhere. But this is an author smart enough to turn his difficulties into subtleties – I’ve pointed out no question not raised in his text – and with the storytelling chops to drag you past them at speed. Rebus cannot go on forever. Rankin cannot invite every subject he wants to discuss for a drink in an Old Town bar. For now, though, they are both making a creditable attempt.