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By Ian Rankin
Orion, $32.99

REBUS is back. Three words that have had crime readers in a state of anticipation since it was announced in June. Rebus was never actually missing, of course. His creator, Ian Rankin, knew exactly where the detective was after his retirement and what he was up to - and it wasn't playing rounds of golf.

In 2009, when Rankin launched his new series, featuring the sober Detective Inspector Malcolm Fox, he revealed that Rebus was ''just down the hall from the other guy'' in the Cold Case Unit, and tossed out this titbit: ''Maybe in book three, Fox could investigate Rebus - that would be interesting.'' Rankin is a man of his word and Standing in Another Man's Grave is the result.

One of the great attractions of the Rebus series is the way it has honoured the passing of time and incorporated real-world events into the narratives. Rankin's novels have always operated on two levels, as crime fiction and as social history.

Whether it's Black and Blue's account of the North Sea oil boom or the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in Set in Darkness, there's always more going on than just the investigation of a crime.

Standing in Another Man's Grave stays true to form but this time it's not a state-of-the-nation novel, it's a state-of-the-man - Rebus. The novel opens as Rebus attends the burial of a colleague. He's craving a cigarette and plagued with nagging text messages from an upstart detective sergeant - his boss.

This is not Detective Inspector Rebus, rogue cop, picking up where he left off; this is Mr John Rebus, civilian. He works alongside a couple of other pensioned-off cops in the soon-to-be-disbanded Edinburgh Cold Case Unit and while his workmates plan their second retirements, Rebus plans to rejoin the force.

A decade-old case offers Rebus the chance to re-establish his credentials when he links it to a number of women who have all disappeared in similar circumstances. He is teamed again with Siobhan Clarke, who observes that the case has ''put a spring in your step''.

When he raises a pint to celebrate, ''Here's tae us'', the final words of the toast reveal a man only too aware of the dying of the light. ''Wha's like us? Gay few - And they're a'deid …''

The moment captures the sense of mortality that pervades the novel. Rebus is beset by young men and women - both criminals and coppers - leaving him behind. Not even ''Big Ger'' Cafferty is immune from youthful pretenders. As Clarke points out: ''You're vinyl, we're digital.''

Rankin has described Standing in Another Man's Grave as a ''road'' novel and much of it is spent in Rebus' company driving the A9 from Edinburgh into the far north.

Rebus is an isolated figure in this large and lonely landscape. The investigation into the women who vanished along this stretch of road has a mythic quality Australian readers may well recognise, and when suspicion falls on a worker in a road gang, the echo of Ivan Milat and Belanglo State Forest is palpable and chilling.

This is unquestionably a Rebus novel but ''the other guy'' - Inspector Fox - has a telling cameo. His description of Rebus, ''the pale, pasty face and the three or four extra stone he seemed to carry'', is one of the rare physical depictions of Rebus in the series. But it's our glimpse of Fox's bitter envy that provides a sharp insight into the man from the Complaints.

''Fox had ceased to take alcohol because he was an alcoholic, while Rebus continued to sup for the exact same reason. Somehow, though, Rebus still functioned, while Fox seldom had.''

When Fox wishes Rebus luck with his application to rejoin the force, it smacks of a Javert who has finally identified his Valjean. Whatever the future holds, Rebus is back and there's likely to be a bit more rage before the dying of his light.

P.M. Newton is a former NSW Police detective and author of The Old School (Penguin).