John Rebus is back. Older, more irascible than ever, the cantankerous Scottish detective has not mellowed after five years away from the police force.
After retiring at the age of 60, in the novel Exit Music, Rebus is back as a civilian working in a cold-case unit that investigates long-forgotten crimes. He even dreams of re-joining the force full-time now the retirement age limit has been lifted.
But the force has been transformed in his absence, and political correctness is not Rebus's forte.
He's still stuck in his stubborn, chain-smoking, hard-drinking ways, which puts him on a collision course with author Ian Rankin's more recent creation: Malcolm Fox of the Edinburgh Police internal affairs unit, known as "the Complaints".
Fox is very much the new style of policeman, stuffy, superior and disdainful of the enmity of those crooked members of the force he has to bring down. And, given Rebus's links to former gangland kingpin Ger Cafferty – "funny how people tended to finish their drinks and move on whenever Cafferty entered an establishment" – and a collection of similarly dour and dangerous ne'er-do-wells, he is very much in Fox's sights.
"Today's police force is very different from the one you got used to," Fox tells the man he regards as a dinosaur. "Methods have changed, and so have attitudes. Do you really think you'd fit in?"
This is the 18th novel in the spectacularly successful Rebus series, and while our anarchic antihero is now a civilian, he's working on a series of missing person cases that seem linked to one of Scotland's main road arteries, the A9.
Still behind the wheel of his trusty old wreck of a car, he's chasing down clues no one else wants to look at, and that often prove dead ends.
While a slow-moving, atmospheric cop story about a grumpy old man might not seem the ingredients for a sure-fire hit, Rankin remains one of the great storytellers of modern crime fiction, blending Rebus's story with glimpses of a Scotland that is fast changing – and may be on the road to independence.
Rankin's characters all seem so real – which is probably why the Rebus series alone has earned him more than $38 million in royalties.
There's Nina Hazlitt, "confused, needy and damaged" mother of one of the missing girls, who makes it clear to Rebus that she'd like to get to know him better, and his former colleague Siobhan Clarke, whose career is on an upward trajectory but likely to be derailed if Rebus puts too many noses out of joint when they work together again.
"Did I pass inspection?" Rebus asks Clarke after an early meeting with the brass.
"It's only day one, remember – plenty of time for me to start letting the side down."
"How about not doing that, eh? Just for once in your life."
The growing difference between them is illustrated in small ways. Rebus's sad old Saab is unchanged, she drives a "new-smelling Audi" and asks probing questions. "So is there anything for the Complaints to find if they do come looking?"
To trust him, or not?
Among the toughness and pathos are laugh-out-loud moments as Rebus revels in his own rudeness for rudeness's sake.
As he traces the last sightings of Annette McKie, the most recent of the missing girls, he finds himself in a pub being served by an unpleasant, tattooed and heavily pierced barmaid.
"Can I buy you one?" he asks.
She does not manage to conceal her surprise, but eventually shakes her head.
"Pity," Rebus says, nodding towards her piercings. "I wanted to see if you leak when you drink."
Standing in Another Man's Grave