The Naming of the Dead

The Naming of the Dead is a crime novel by Ian Rankin. It is the sixteenth of the Inspector Rebus novels. It is set in Edinburgh in July 2005, in the week of the G8 summit in Gleneagles.

The Naming of the Dead
AuthorIan Rankin
SeriesInspector Rebus
GenreDetective fiction
Publication date
Media typePrint
Pages416 pages
Preceded byFleshmarket Close 
Followed byExit Music 

Plot summary

An underlying thread throughout the book is that of familial relationships; the book opens with Detective Inspector John Rebus attending the funeral of his brother Michael, who has died suddenly from a stroke. The parents of Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke arrive in Edinburgh as part of the protests, demonstrations, and scuffles that surrounded the G8 summit at Gleneagles, keeping the police busy. Clarke defied her parents by becoming a police officer; she now wants to feel like a daughter.

Rebus is nearing retirement ("nobody would blame you for coasting"), and becomes sidelined until the apparent suicide of MP Ben Webster occurs at a high-level meeting in Edinburgh Castle. It emerges that Webster was campaigning against the arms trade, and Richard Pennen of Pennen Industries, a dealer in weapons technology, comes under suspicion.

At the same time, a serial killer seems to be killing former offenders, helped by a website set up by the family of a victim. Clues have been deliberately left at Clootie Well (duplicated from the Black Isle to Auchterarder for the purposes of the plot), a place where items of clothing are traditionally left for luck.

Siobhan Clarke is placed in charge of the investigation, although she is outranked by Rebus, and finds herself having to compromise with Edinburgh gangster Morris Cafferty (for whom one of the victims was working as a bouncer) in hunting down the identity of the riot policeman who apparently assaulted her mother at a demonstration. Cafferty is also getting older, though his insecurity is balanced somewhat by his having had a biography ghost-written by local journalist Mairie Henderson. She is enlisted by Rebus and Clarke to help solve the crimes.

The new Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders Police, James Corbyn, is keen to put any potential controversy from the investigation of these sordid crimes on hold until the focus of the world's media has moved on. He puts Rebus and Clarke under suspension when they disobey him and they need to rely on Ellen Wylie for help.

David Steelforth, the London-based Special Branch (SO12) Commander who is overseeing the policing of the G8 summit, seems to be holding back Rebus' work at every turn. Rebus and Clarke blow the cover of one of his agents who is photographing demonstrators. Former preacher Councillor Gareth Tench seems to Rebus to be involved due to his apparent closeness to one of the suspects, Niddrie thug Keith Carberry.

The book is set in real time; within it, some real events occur, such as the 7/7 London bombings, the 2012 Olympic bid and George W. Bush falling off his bicycle whilst waving at police officers:[1] " 'Did we just do that?' Siobhan asked quietly."

The title refers to: the ceremony Clarke's ageing left-wing parents attend, where the names of a sampling of the dead from the Iraq War are read out; the list of victims created by Rebus and Clarke as they try to unravel the crime; and also to John Rebus' evocation of grief in naming the many of his own friends and family who have died in the course of his life.

By the end of the book, Clarke realises that she has grown closer than ever to understanding Rebus:

"It's not enough, is it?" she repeated. "Just...symbolic...because there's nothing else you can do."

"What are you talking about?" he asked, with a smile.

"The naming of the dead," she told him, resting her head against his shoulder. (p410)

She increasingly fears that she is becoming more like him:

"obsessed and sidelined, thrawn and distrusted. Rebus had lost family and friends. When he went out drinking, he did so on his own, standing quietly at the bar, facing the row of optics."

Literary significance and criticism

The book, which shows how crime permeates society, has been called "Ian Rankin's finest novel... more than a crime novel". Rebus was compared with Raymond Chandler's fictional detective Philip Marlowe[2] and the book described as "dark, murky and less immediate than his other novels, but still zinging with wit and his inimitable gift for plot. His richest and most complex work to date".[3] There are also references in the book to the TV series Columbo, of which Rankin is a fan.[4]


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