By Ian Rankin
Read by James Macpherson
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In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.
We love making damaged people our playthings.
Siobhan Clarke walked through the emptied flat. Not that it was empty; rather the life had been sucked from it. Packing crates sat the length of the hallway. The kitchen cupboards gaped, as did the door to the tenement stairwell. The window in the main bedroom had been opened to air the place. It looked bigger, of course, without the furniture and the restless figure of John Rebus himself. Bare light bulbs dangled from each ceiling. Some curtains had been left, as had most of the carpeting. (She’d run a vacuum cleaner over all the bedrooms the previous day.) In the hall, she studied the boxes. She knew what they held, each one written on in her own hand. Books; music; personal papers; case notes.
Case notes: one bedroom had been filled with them–investigations John Rebus had worked on, solved and unsolved, plus other cases that had held an interest for him, helping keep him busy in his retirement. She heard footsteps on the stairs. One of the movers gave a nod and a smile as he hefted a crate, turning to go. She followed him, squeezing past his colleague.
‘Nearly there,’ the second man said, puffing out his cheeks. He was perspiring and she hoped he was all right. Probably in his mid fifties and carrying too much weight around his middle. Edinburgh tenements could be murder. She herself wouldn’t be sorry not to have to climb the two storeys again after today.
The main door to the tenement had been wedged open with a folded triangle of thick cardboard–the corner of a packing case, she guessed. The first mover, tattooed arms bared, had reached the pavement and was making a sharp turn, left and left again, passing through a gateway. Beyond the small paved area–probably a neat garden in the distant past–stood another open door, this one leading to the ground-floor flat.
‘Living room?’ he asked.
‘Living room,’ Siobhan Clarke confirmed.
John Rebus had his back to them as they entered. He was standing in front of a row of brand-new bookcases, bought at IKEA the previous weekend. That trip–and the clash of wills during the shelves’ assembly–had put more strain on the friendship between Rebus and Clarke than any operation they’d worked on during their joint time in CID. Now he turned and frowned at the
‘Where the hell do they keep coming from? Didn’t we make a dozen trips to the charity shop?’
‘I’m not sure you factored in how much smaller this flat is than your old one.’ Clarke had crouched to give some attention to Rebus’s dog Brillo.
‘They’ll have to go in the spare room,’ Rebus muttered.
‘I told you to ditch those old case notes.’
‘They’re sensitive documents, Siobhan.’
‘Some are so old they’re written on vellum.’ The mover had made his exit. Clarke tapped one of the books Rebus had shelved. ‘Didn’t take you for a Reacher fan.’
‘I sometimes need a break from all the philosophy and ancient languages.’
Clarke studied the shelves. ‘Not going to alphabetise them?’
‘Life’s too short.’
‘What about your music?’
‘So how will you find anything?’
‘I just will.’
She took a couple of steps back and spun around. ‘I like it,’ she said. Wallpaper had been removed, the walls and ceiling freshly painted, though Rebus had drawn the line at the skirting boards and window frames. The heavy drapes from his old living room’s bay window fitted the near-identical window here. His chair, sofa and hi-fi had been placed as he wanted them. The dining table had had to go–too large for the remaining space. In its place stood a modern drop-leaf, courtesy of IKEA again. The kitchen was a narrow galley-style affair. The bathroom, too, was long and narrow but perfectly adequate. Rebus had baulked at the idea of a refit: ‘maybe later’. Clarke had grown used to that refrain these past few weeks. She’d had to bully him into decluttering. Thinning out the books and music had taken the best part of a fortnight, and even then she would sometimes catch him lifting an item from one of the boxes or bags destined for the charity shop. It struck her that he didn’t have much in the way of family mementoes or what could be termed ‘heirlooms’–no bits and pieces that had belonged to his parents; a handful of framed photos of his ex-wife and his daughter. Clarke had suggested he might want to contact his daughter so she could help him move.
‘I’ll be fine.’
So she had applied for a week’s leave and rented a small van, big enough for runs to IKEA, the charity shop and the dump.
‘Cornicing’s the same as your old place,’ she said, studying the ceiling.
‘We’ll make a detective of you yet,’ Rebus said, hefting more books onto a shelf. ‘But let’s save the next lesson for after we’ve had that mug of tea you’re about to brew…’
At the end of the kitchen was a door leading out to the enclosed rear garden, a large expanse of lawn with an ornamental border. Clarke let Brillo out before filling the kettle. Opening cupboards, she noted that Rebus had rearranged her work of the previous day–obviously there was some system he preferred: pots, tins and packets lower down; crockery higher up. He had even swapped around the cutlery in the two drawers. She popped tea bags into two mugs and lifted the milk from the fridge. It was the old fridge from the upstairs flat–same went for the washing machine. Neither fitted quite right, jutting out into the room. If it were her kitchen, she’d always be bruising a knee or stubbing a toe. She’d told him they wouldn’t fit, that he should replace them.
‘Maybe later,’ had come the reply.
The two movers did not require tea–they seemed to work on a supply of fizzy drinks and vaping. Besides which, they were almost done. She heard them fetching more boxes.
‘Living room?’ one asked.
‘If you must,’ Rebus answered.
‘One more trip, I reckon. You’ll want to lock up after us.’
‘Just pull the door shut when you’re finished.’
‘No last wee sentimental look-see?’
‘I’ve got the meter readings, what else do I need?’
The mover seemed to have no answer to this. Clarke watched him retreat as she took the mugs through.
‘Forty years of your life, John,’ she said, handing him his tea.
‘Fresh start, Siobhan. Keys are going to the buyer’s solicitor. Post’s being redirected.’ He seemed to be wondering if he’d forgotten anything. ‘Just bloody lucky this place fell vacant when it did. Mrs Mackay had been here almost as long as me. Son living in Australia, so that’s her twilight years taken care of.’
‘Whereas you couldn’t bear to move even fifty yards.’
He fixed her with a look. ‘I can still surprise you, though.’ He jabbed a finger towards the ceiling. ‘You reckoned they’d be carrying me out of there in a box.’
‘Is everyone this cheery when they move house?’
‘Maybe you’re forgetting why I’m moving.’
No, she hadn’t forgotten. COPD: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. He was finding stairs too much of a chore. So when the For Sale sign appeared in the downstairs front garden…
‘Besides,’ he added, ‘two flights wasn’t fair on Brillo and those poor wee legs of his.’ He looked around for the dog.
‘Garden,’ Clarke explained.
The pair of them headed through the kitchen and out of the door. Brillo was sniffing his way around the lawn, tail wagging.
‘Settled in already,’ Clarke commented.
‘Might not be so easy for his owner.’ Rebus peered up at the tenement windows that surrounded them, then gave a sigh, avoiding eye contact with Clarke. ‘You should go back to work tomorrow. Tell Sutherland you don’t need the full week.’
‘We’ve stuff to unpack.’
‘And you’ve a murder waiting for you. Speaking of which: any news?’
Clarke shook her head. ‘Graham’s got his team assembled; doubtful I’d make much of a difference.’
‘You’d make a difference,’ Rebus countered. ‘I think I’m just about capable of lifting things from boxes and failing to find anywhere to put them.’
They shared a smile, turning as the movers arrived. The men entered the living room and reappeared a few seconds later.
‘Reckon that’s us,’ the older man said from the kitchen doorway. Rebus approached him, digging banknotes from his pocket. Clarke watched as Brillo came trotting up to her, settling on his haunches, eyes expectant.
‘You going to promise me you’ll look after him?’ Clarke asked.
The dog angled its head, as if considering how best to answer.
Siobhan Clarke’s own flat was just off Broughton Street, across the city from Rebus. One storey up in a tenement she’d been considering moving out of for the past several months. DCI Graham Sutherland had gone from being an occasional colleague–albeit several rungs above her–to her lover. Sutherland headed one of the major incident teams. His own home was in Glasgow, and he’d asked her to move in with him.
‘I’ll have to think about it,’ she’d said. She’d visited his place several times, stayed over just the once. Though divorced, signs of his ex-wife lingered, and she doubted he had bothered to buy a new bed.
‘Maybe a flat in the city centre would be more your thing,’ he had suggested, without managing to sound enthusiastic, since when he’d directed her towards a couple of properties he’d found online, his emails headed FYI. One of them she’d actually quite liked. Without saying anything, she’d driven through to Glasgow and parked outside the building, getting out and walking around, getting a feel for the area. It was fine, she told herself. It wouldn’t be bad.
Then she’d driven home.
Rebus had basically dismissed her this evening. She’d suggested takeaway curry from his favourite place, but he had shooed her out.
‘Take a break. Go tell your boyfriend you want back on the team.’
She checked her phone. It was nearly eight o’clock and Sutherland hadn’t replied to either of her texts, so she put her jacket on, grabbed her keys and headed downstairs. It was a short drive to Leith police station–she could almost have walked it. She paused halfway to dive into a shop, emerging again with a carrier bag. Parking by Leith Links, she made for the police station and was buzzed in. She climbed the imposing marble staircase to the upper floor and entered the MIT room. Two familiar faces looked up from their computers.
‘Aren’t you on holiday?’ DC Christine Esson asked.
‘That’s why I’m bringing you souvenirs.’ Clarke emptied out the bag of shopping: salted peanuts, crisps, chocolate brownies and bottled water.
‘Better than a postcard,’ DC Ronnie Ogilvie said, just beating Esson in a dash to the treats.
‘Boss gone home?’ Clarke asked.
‘Meeting at the Big House.’ Esson retreated to her desk with her share of the swag. Clarke followed her, peering over her shoulder at the computer screen.
‘Rest of the team?’
‘You’re looking at the late shift.’
‘How’s it shaping up?’
‘You’re on a break,’ Esson reminded her. ‘How’s the move going?’
‘How do you think?’ Clarke had turned towards the wall behind Esson–the Murder Wall. It was covered by a large corkboard covered in blue felt. There were photos of the victim and the locus pinned to it, plus maps, some details of the autopsy, and a staffing rota. Her own name had been crossed out. Typical that she’d arranged to take time off during a really quiet spell, only to have a big case pop up on day one. She’d tried telling the DCI that she could postpone her break, but he’d been adamant: ‘John needs you–he’d never say it, might not even know it, but it’s the truth.’
‘We’re getting a bit of outside pressure,’ Ronnie Ogilvie said through a mouthful of crisps.
‘Because he’s rich?’
‘Rich and connected,’ Esson qualified. ‘His father, Ahmad, is worth squillions but thought to be under house arrest somewhere in Saudi Arabia.’
‘Thought to be?’
‘The Saudis aren’t exactly being forthcoming. We have a human rights charity to thank for the gen.’
Clarke was scanning the information on the wall. Salman bin Mahmoud had been a handsome young man. Age twenty-three. Drove an Aston Martin. Lived in a four-storey Georgian town house on one of Edinburgh’s best New Town streets. Short black hair and a neat beard. Brown eyes. A couple of the photos showed him smiling but not laughing.
‘Not every student gets a DB11 for their birthday,’ Clarke commented.
‘Or lives in a house with five spacious bedrooms.’ Esson was standing next to her. ‘Best thing is, he wasn’t even studying here.’ Clarke raised an eyebrow. ‘Enrolled at a business school in London, where he happens to have a lease on a penthouse apartment in Bayswater.’
‘So where’s the Edinburgh connection?’ Clarke asked.
Esson and Ogilvie shared a look. ‘You tell her,’ Ogilvie said, opening one of the bottles of water.
‘James Bond,’ Esson obliged. ‘He was a nut for James Bond, especially the films, and more specifically the early ones.’
‘Meaning Sean Connery?’
‘Son of Edinburgh,’ Esson said with a nod. ‘Apparently both homes are filled with memorabilia.’
‘Explains the DB11 but doesn’t answer the really big question–what was a rich Saudi student with a James Bond fetish doing in the car park of a carpet warehouse on Seafield Road at eleven o’clock of a summer’s night?’
‘Meeting someone,’ Ogilvie suggested.
‘Someone who stabbed him and left him bleeding to death,’ Esson added.
‘But didn’t rob him or even bother to drive away in his expensive car.’ Clarke folded her arms. ‘Any joy from CCTV?’
‘Plenty sightings of the car. Heriot Row to Seafield Road with no obvious stops.’
‘Salamander Street’s just along the way–used to be popular with sex workers,’ Clarke mused.
‘Is his mother coming to claim the body?’
‘Embassy seem to be taking care of things–reading between the lines, I’d say they don’t want her travelling.’
Clarke looked at Esson. ‘Oh?’
‘Maybe afraid she wouldn’t go back.’ Esson gave a shrug.
‘What did the father do that put him in the bad books?’
‘Who knows? The family are from the Hejaz region. I’ve done a bit of reading and he’s by no means the only one under house arrest. The usual charge is corruption. Probably just means he’s pissed off a member of the ruler’s family. Some pay a hefty fine and are released, but it’s not happened to Ahmad yet.’
‘It’s always the money, isn’t it?’
‘Not always, but often enough.’
There was a sound behind them of a throat being cleared. When they turned, DCI Graham Sutherland was standing in the doorway, feet apart, hands in the trouser pockets of his charcoal suit.
‘I must be seeing things,’ he said. ‘Because I could have sworn you were only halfway through a week’s much-needed leave.’
‘I come bearing gifts.’ Clarke gestured towards the desk.
‘There’s no place for bribery in Police Scotland, Detective Inspector Clarke. Can I invite you to step into my office for a carpeting?’ He started towards the door at the far end of the room, opening it and gesturing for Clarke to precede him into the cramped, windowless space.
‘Look,’ she began as soon as the door was closed. But Sutherland held up a hand to silence her, seating himself at his desk so that he was facing her.
‘Shocking as this news will be, we’re managing fine without you, Siobhan. I’ve got all the resources I need and a blank cheque should I need more.’
‘The flat move’s almost done, though.’
‘Great news–you can put your feet up for a couple of days.’
‘What if I don’t want to put my feet up?’
Sutherland’s eyes narrowed but he said nothing. Clarke held her hands up in a show of surrender.
‘But be honest with me–how’s it really going?’
‘A clear motive wouldn’t go amiss. And what friends we’ve been able to talk to haven’t exactly been forthcoming.’
‘They’re scared of something?’
Sutherland shrugged and ran a hand down his burgundy tie. He was in his early fifties and not far shy of retirement, but proud that he had kept his figure along with his hair, the latter the subject of unfounded rumours of a weave. ‘We’re getting help from the Met–they’re looking at his London contacts. Seems he wasn’t a great one for going to classes. Nightclubs and racecourses were more his thing.’ He broke off. ‘None of which should be of any interest to you.’ He changed position slightly on his chair. ‘How’s John
‘He says he can manage. He’d much rather I was at work, being useful and productive.’
‘Is that so?’ Sutherland managed a thin smile. Clarke felt she was losing this particular battle.
‘Will I see you later?’ she enquired.
‘Relegated to the sofa?’
‘I probably couldn’t be that cruel.’
‘Maybe I’ll risk it then.’
‘I bought extra provisions on the off-chance.’
He nodded his thanks. ‘Give me another hour or two?’
‘Careful you don’t burn out, Graham.’
‘If I do, they’ll need a fresh, fully rested replacement. Know anyone who’d fit the bill?
‘I’ll give it some thought, DCI Sutherland…’
Rebus had to give a slight tug on Brillo’s lead. Having been for their evening walk to the Meadows, the dog had made for the tenement’s main door.
‘We’re both going to have to get used to this,’ Rebus said, pushing open the gate. ‘But trust me, in time you can get used to just about anything.’ He had managed to avoid looking up at the curtainless window of his old living room. When he unlocked the door to his new flat, he caught a slight aroma beneath the smell of fresh paint: the merest trace of the previous occupant. It wasn’t really perfume; it was a blend of who they’d been and the life they had lived. He had a note of Mrs Mackay’s new address in Australia, in case the redirection service failed. He had left something similar in his old flat. He had an inkling it had been bought to be let out to students–no real surprise there. Marchmont had always been student turf, the university just the other side of the Meadows. Rebus had only very occasionally had to complain about a noisy party, and even then not for several years. Were students cut from different cloth these days? Less rowdy; more… well, studious?
Walking into the living room, manoeuvring between boxes, he realised his computer had yet to be unpacked. No rush: they weren’t doing the broadband for another couple of days. At Siobhan’s suggestion he had one night begun composing a list of people he needed to notify of his changed circumstances. It hadn’t even covered half a sheet–and come to think of it, when was the last time he’d seen it? He could hear Brillo in the kitchen, feasting on dry food and fresh water. Rebus hadn’t bothered with dinner; he never seemed particularly hungry these days. There were a few bottles of beer in the kitchen, and several bottles of spirits sitting on the shelf of the alcove adjacent to the window. A couple of nice malts, but he wasn’t really in the mood. Music, though: he should select something special. He remembered moving into the upstairs flat with Rhona half a lifetime ago. He’d had a portable record player then and had put on the second Rolling Stones album, grabbing Rhona and dancing her around the vast-seeming room.
Only later had the walls begun to close in.
When he peered at the spines of his LPs, he saw that they weren’t in anything like the same order as upstairs. Not that there had been any real sense of cataloguing–it was more that he’d known pretty much where he’d find whatever he wanted to hear. Instead of the Stones, he decided on Van Morrison.
‘Aye, you’ll do,’ he said to himself.
Having eased the needle onto the vinyl, he stepped back. The record skipped. He looked down at the floor. Loose floorboard. He placed his foot on it again and the same thing happened. He stabbed a finger at the offender.
‘You’re on my list now, pal,’ he warned it, keeping his footsteps soft as he retreated to his chair.
It wasn’t long before Brillo curled up on the floor next to his feet. Rebus had promised himself that he’d unpack a few more boxes before bedtime, but he realised there was no urgency. When his phone buzzed, he checked the screen before answering: Deborah Quant. He’d asked her a while back if they were courting. She’d replied that they were friends with benefits–which seemed to suit both of them just fine.
‘Thought you might have popped round to check.’
‘Busy day, mostly thanks to your lot.’
‘I’m long retired, Deb.’ Rebus paused. ‘I’m guessing this is the Saudi student?’
‘Police and Procurator Fiscal don’t seem to trust me to establish cause of death any more.’
‘You reckon pressure’s being applied?’
‘From all sides–government here and in London, plus our friends in the media. Added to which, Muslim burials usually take place within two to three days–embassy are pushing for that to happen.’
‘Handy for whoever killed him, if you can’t keep the body for future examination…’
‘Which I’ve explained until I’m blue in the face.’
‘So it’s the full tourniquet, eh?’ He paused again. ‘I take it you didn’t find anything out of the ordinary?’
‘Thin-bladed knife, maybe four to six inches long.’
‘Did they know what they were doing?’
‘They went for his neck rather than chest, abdomen or stomach. I’m not a hundred per cent sure what that tells us, but then that’s not my job. Angle of incision suggests someone of similar height and probably right-handed. Can I assume you’ve been discussing it with Siobhan?’
‘She’s champing at the bit.’
‘But she’s a loyal friend, too.’
‘I’ve told her I’ll be fine from here in.’
‘So where are you right now?’
‘Chair in the living room, Brillo at my feet.’
‘And you’ve got the hi-fi set up, so all’s well with the world.’
‘Will I see you tomorrow?’
‘You work too hard.’ He listened to her laughter.
‘It was the right move to make–you do know that, don’t you?’
‘For the sake of my lungs, maybe.’
‘Try spending a day without them, John. Give Brillo a scratch behind the ears from me. We’ll catch up soon.’
And then she was gone. She lived less than a mile away, in a modern block where minimalism ruled. Her possessions were few because there was nowhere to keep them–no Edinburgh press or understairs cupboard, no nooks and crannies. Just clean lines that repelled the very notion of clutter. Her office at the mortuary was the same–no files were allowed to linger long on her desk.
Rebus thought again of the books he’d decided he couldn’t live without, even if he would never read them; the albums he played maybe once or twice a decade but still clung to; the boxes of case files that seemed a veritable part of him, like an extra limb. Why would he part with them when he had a spare bedroom no overnight guest ever graced? His only family consisted of his daughter and granddaughter, and they never opted to stay. That was why he had ditched the old bed and replaced it with a two-seater sofa, leaving space for more bookshelves, the suitcase he doubted he would ever use, and his second-best record player, the same one he’d had when dancing with Rhona that first night. It no longer worked but he reckoned he could find someone to fix it. He would put it on his list.
When he went into the kitchen to make a mug of tea, he examined the central heating timer. Mrs Mackay had left the instruction manual but it looked straightforward enough.
‘Heating bills are quite reasonable,’ she’d told him. But then she had always opted for another layer of wool rather than an extra degree on the thermostat. He wondered if her various cardigans, pullovers and shawls had accompanied her to Australia. He wouldn’t bet against it.
While the kettle boiled, he walked into the main bedroom. With the double bed, plus his old wardrobe and chest of drawers, floor space was limited. Siobhan had helped him make up the bed, only having to shift Brillo half a dozen times in the process.
‘Tell me he doesn’t sleep next to you,’ she’d said.
‘Of course not,’ Rebus had lied.
The dog was watching now from the hallway. Rebus checked his watch. ‘Soon enough,’ he said. ‘Just one more mug of tea and maybe another record, eh?’
He wondered how many times he would wake up in the night and not know the new route to the bathroom. Maybe he’d leave the hall light on.
‘Or stop drinking bloody tea,’ he muttered to himself, heading back into the kitchen.
But it wasn’t his need to pee that woke him at 5 a.m. It was a call. He fumbled for both his phone and the bedside lamp, waking Brillo in the process. He couldn’t quite focus on the screen but pressed the phone to his ear anyway.
‘Dad?’ His daughter Samantha’s urgent voice.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked, sitting up, growing more awake by the second.
‘Your landline–it’s been cut off.’
Praise for IN A HOUSE OF LIES
- "There's no one like Ian Rankin for bringing us right into the world of detectives. For anyone who's fascinated by the inner workings of that world, and all its tricky, brutal, expert ruthlessness, In A House of Lies is a must-read."—Tana French
- "Loved In A House Of Lies. How does Rebus keep on getting better and better? Ian Rankin is a genius."—Lee Child
"Rather Be the Devil will not disappoint - in the last 30 pages or so, Rankin delivers so many shocking but
satisfying twists I felt I might have whiplash."—Tampa Bay Times
"One of the best things in crime fiction for years, but Rankin kicks it up several notches here."
—Booklist (Starred Review)
- On Sale
- Nov 10, 2020
- Hachette Audio