In a House of Lies


By Ian Rankin

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A cold case involving a missing private investigator threatens to unearth skeletons from Rebus’s past in this “must-read” mystery (Tana French).

Former Detective John Rebus’ retirement is disrupted once again when skeletal remains are identified as a private investigator who went missing over a decade earlier. The remains, found in a rusted car in the East Lothian woods, not far from Edinburgh, quickly turn into a cold case murder investigation. Rebus’ old friend, Siobhan Clarke is assigned to the case, but neither of them could have predicted what buried secrets the investigation will uncover.

Rebus remembers the original case — a shady land deal — all too well. After the investigation stalled, the family of the missing man complained that there was a police cover-up. As Clarke and her team investigate the cold case murder, she soon learns a different side of her mentor, a side he would prefer to keep in the past.

A gripping story of corruption and consequences, this new novel demonstrates that Rankin and Rebus are still at the top of their game.




The car was found because Ginger was jealous of his friend Jimmy.

There were four of them in the woods that morning. It was the February break, no school for a few days. They’d taken their bikes as far as they could, then left them when the path became too overgrown, with roots and fallen branches suddenly forming a makeshift assault course. All four of them were eleven years old and in the same class. Ginger, Alan, Rick and Jimmy. Jimmy’s bike was the most expensive – his stuff always was. Clothes, backpack, bike. His parents always bought the best. His bedroom was stuffed with game consoles and the latest releases. Which was why Ginger waited till Jimmy was standing at the very edge of the deep gully, sweating and panting after all that running and jumping they’d been doing, before giving him a shove. There wasn’t much force to it. Ginger had intended that Jimmy would get a fright, maybe slide a few feet down the slope but be able to claw his way back without help while the rest of them laughed and watched and filmed. But the sides were steep and unstable, and Jimmy tumbled and skidded all the way down, falling into the mass of bracken, briar and nettles at the bottom.

‘I didn’t do it,’ Ginger said, this being his default position in the classroom, the playground and the house he shared with his parents and two sisters. Alan was cursing under his breath as he peered over the edge. Rick had a hold of the back of Alan’s hoodie, as if fearing that Ginger wasn’t yet finished.

‘I didn’t do it!’ Ginger repeated more loudly.

All three of them watched as Jimmy got to his feet. He checked the backs of his hands for nettle stings, then his face, before reaching down for a severed branch.

‘He’s coming for you,’ Alan teased Ginger.

But Jimmy was using the branch to prod at the bracken, swishing it aside as best he could until they could all see what was hidden there.

‘Somebody dumped a car,’ Jimmy called up to them.

‘Cars get dumped all the time,’ Rick commented. ‘Are you okay to climb out of there?’

But Jimmy ignored him. He was moving around the car, doing his best to uncover it. The windows were still intact, but covered in a mossy film. He tugged his sleeve over his hand and started wiping.

The other boys looked at each other. Alan was the first to start scrambling down the gradient, Rick and Ginger following his lead.

‘Anything worth taking?’ Alan enquired. Jimmy’s face was pressed to the glass. He tried the driver’s-side door but it was jammed.

‘I think it’s a Polo,’ Ginger muttered. Then, to clarify: ‘The car, it’s a VW Polo.’

Rick was rubbing moss across his palms. ‘Nettles got me,’ he complained.

Alan had circled to the passenger side and yanked the door open. The hinges creaked their resistance.

‘Looks empty,’ he said, climbing in. The key was in the ignition, so he turned it, but nothing happened. ‘Dead,’ he announced.

‘Somebody nicked it and dumped it,’ Ginger concluded, growing bored already and giving one wing a kick. Rick had unzipped his fly and was urinating against a clump of ferns.

‘Piss is good for nettle stings,’ Alan informed him, receiving a single raised finger in response.

Jimmy had gone to the back of the car and was pressing the release button for the boot. It opened an inch, then stuck.

‘Help me out,’ he commanded Ginger, the pair of them flinching as the rear window shattered. They turned towards Rick, who had thrown the stone and was now grinning as he brushed dirt from his hands.

‘Fuck’s sake!’ Jimmy yelled.

‘Let’s get out of here,’ Rick replied.

Ginger was peering through the hole in the glass. ‘Something’s in the back,’ he announced, waiting until the others had joined him.

‘Looks like a skeleton,’ Alan offered.

‘Must be a joke or something,’ Rick said. ‘Doesn’t look real to me – does it look real to you?’

‘What does a real one look like, Professor?’ Jimmy shot back. He was taking photos with his phone. The others dug out their own phones so they could do the same.

‘It’s got hair,’ Ginger said. ‘Hair and a shirt.’

‘We should hoof it,’ Rick suggested. ‘Leave it for someone else to find.’ He turned away and started scrabbling up the slope. ‘What are you waiting for?’ he called back down to the others. Ginger and Alan were looking at one another, trying to decide. Then they heard Jimmy’s voice and turned towards him. He had his phone pressed to his ear and was asking to be put through to the police.


Siobhan Clarke parked on the access road, behind a line of other official vehicles. A uniformed officer checked her warrant card before indicating the route into the woods. She opened the back of her Vauxhall Astra and swapped her shoes for a pair of wellingtons.

‘Very wise,’ the uniform said, studying his own mud-caked footwear.

‘Not my first time,’ Clarke informed him.

The back doors of the scene-of-crime van were open, a technician rummaging for something they needed.

‘Is Haj in charge?’ she asked, receiving a nod of confirmation. She gave a nod of her own and kept moving. Haj Atwal was as good a crime-scene manager as Police Scotland had. Clarke’s phone vibrated in her hand. An 0131 number. There was just enough signal, so she answered.


Silence at the other end. She checked the screen. Call ended. Clarke didn’t recognise the number, but that didn’t surprise her. Same thing had happened three times the previous day and a couple the day before that. Wrong number, she’d assumed, but now she was beginning to wonder. She passed four bikes. The boys had been taken by car to give their statements at a police station. Their bikes would be delivered later – as long as someone remembered.

It took her over five minutes to reach the gully. She heard the voices first, and then started to see the figures. A couple of thick ropes had been secured to nearby trees. One SOCO was climbing out of the gully, hauling himself up with effort, while another was using the adjacent rope to replace him.

‘Survival of the fittest,’ an officer next to Clarke muttered.

Peering over the edge, Clarke saw the car. Much of its camouflage had been removed. Photographs were being taken, the ground around the vehicle examined. Arc lamps were being assembled, hooked up to a portable generator – early afternoon, but the light was already fading.

‘I’m guessing a doctor wasn’t needed.’

‘Not as such,’ the officer commented. ‘Pathologist’s down there, though.’

Everyone in the gully wore the same white hooded overalls, but Clarke identified Deborah Quant. Quant saw her too, and gave a wave. The figure next to her seemed to ask who she was waving at, and when she replied, he held his hand up in greeting. A minute later, he was climbing out of the gully, making it look easy. He slid his hood back and held out a hand for Clarke to shake.

‘I’m DCI Sutherland,’ he said. ‘But Graham will do. You’re DI Clarke?’

‘Siobhan,’ Clarke said.

‘And you’re acquainted with our local pathologist.’

Clarke nodded. ‘What do we know about the victim?’

‘Male. Deborah’s unwilling to say how long he’s been dead. Looks like there’s some damage to the skull.’

Clarke made a show of studying their surroundings. ‘Not an easy place to drive to.’

‘I’m guessing it used to be a bit more accessible than it is now. We don’t know if he was alive when he went into the gully or already trussed up in the boot.’

‘How old is the car?’

‘Not sure yet. Number plates have been removed. No sign of a tax disc, nothing in the glove box or the clothing. We’ll give it to the lab and see what they say.’

‘It’s not some weird suicide?’

Sutherland shrugged. ‘Deborah doesn’t think the skull damage came from the crash. It’s to the back of the head and points to a weapon rather than any other type of impact.’

‘You said he was trussed?’

Well, not exactly.’ He got busy on his phone, turning the screen towards her. The photo showed the inside of the boot, a close-up of a pair of legs and feet. Grubby jeans, looking brittle with age, and white trainers that had begun to perish. The ankles were shackled by a pair of handcuffs. Clarke looked to Sutherland for an explanation, but all he could offer was a shrug.

The major incident team’s office was based at Leith police station. Sutherland had said he would meet Clarke there.

‘You know the place?’ he had asked.

‘I know it.’

She called her own office at Gayfield Square and explained that she would be elsewhere.

‘Seconded to MIT,’ DC Christine Esson commented. ‘Don’t think I’m not jealous.’

‘I’ll let you know how it goes.’

‘Probably just need you to show them where they can get hot food and a drink.’

‘Thanks for the vote of confidence, Christine.’ Clarke hoped Esson could hear the smile. She ended the call and entered the MIT room. It was empty apart from some desks and chairs. This was the way things were now, thanks to the changes at Police Scotland – local CID reduced to a secondary role, a dedicated team parachuted in to run the show, a couple of rooms set aside for their use. Clarke didn’t know Graham Sutherland but she had heard of him. She wondered why she was on his radar.

There was a noise behind her and she turned. Sutherland entered the room, eyes on her. He was tall, with an athletic build. Early fifties maybe. Short fair hair, a face that had caught the sun not too long ago, a gaze that said it wouldn’t miss much. His charcoal two-button suit looked almost new, crisp white shirt, dark blue tie.

‘Same as usual,’ he commented, studying his surroundings. ‘I’m betting the windows are stuck shut and half the sockets don’t work.’

‘Plus some of the desk drawers can be problematic.’

He offered her a quick smile. ‘Rest of the team will be here soon. Not sure you’ll know any of them.’

‘Which sort of begs a question, sir…’

‘I said to call me Graham.’

‘I mean, if you don’t know the city, there are guides better qualified than me.’ She had folded her arms. He met her gaze.

‘I’ve heard good things about you, Siobhan. I can find my way around Edinburgh on my own, but I’m hoping you can help me find my way around this case. And besides…’ He broke off, swallowing what he’d been about to add.

‘Besides?’ she nudged him.

‘I know you had a run-in with ACU. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last.’ He took a step towards her, angling his head slightly. ‘Way I look at it, cops are like family. ACU need reminding of that.’

‘I’m not a charity case, Graham.’

He nodded slowly. Voices could be heard climbing the stairs. ‘The real charity cases are about to walk through that door. We’ll get the introductions out of the way and then start work – okay?’


Clarke locked the lavatory door and sat down, tapping the names into her phone so she would remember them. There was another DI – Callum Reid. He had red hair and freckles and looked young enough to be Clarke’s son. He’d come into the room holding a map, which he had unfolded and pinned to the wall. It showed the woods and the villages and towns around them.

‘This’ll have to do till we can get hold of a whiteboard,’ he had announced.

Sutherland had given Clarke a look to say this was entirely expected of Reid. Mr Efficiency, she typed into her phone next to his name. The two detective sergeants had the vague look of a comedy duo from 1970s TV. George Gamble was a portly figure in a three-piece check suit, all of it topped by a ruddy face and an unruly mop of hair. Tess Leighton was a good three inches taller than him and so thin Clarke wondered about anorexia. Her complexion was almost bleached, with dark hollows beneath her eyes. The two DCs on the other hand seemed like brother and sister. They were both fair-haired and of similar height and age, probably still in their mid-twenties. Phil Yeats introduced himself by specifying that his name was ‘like the poet, not the wine lodge’.

‘He never tires of explaining,’ DC Emily Crowther added, shaking Clarke’s hand.

The team had only recently come together, hand-picked by Sutherland, who himself hadn’t led more than a handful of major investigations. As he’d explained this to Clarke, she had caught a subtext: So don’t let me down. Then they had all gathered in front of the map, Callum Reid circling the woods with a thick black marker.

Having finished listing the names of her new colleagues as she sat in the toilet stall, Clarke tapped the edge of her phone against her chin. At least now she knew why she had been brought in: to show ACU that cops stuck together. ACU: Police Scotland’s Anti-Corruption Unit. They’d spent the best part of half a year trying to pin something on Clarke. They were finished with her now, but she reckoned they’d be back. She knew it rankled with them that they’d not got the result they wanted. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last. Sutherland had been telling her that he too had fallen foul of ACU at some point in the past. Was her secondment merely his way of sticking two fingers up at his old tormentors? She hoped not. He’d said he had heard good things about her. Bloody right, too – she was a good cop, a good detective, most of it learned the hard way.

Her phone started to thrum. Incoming call. This time a name came up instead of a number. She was half smiling as she answered.

‘I was just thinking about you,’ she said.

‘Was it a Polo?’ John Rebus sounded agitated.


‘The car in the woods. You need to check if it was a red Volkswagen Polo.’

‘How do you know?’

‘Radio says there was a body inside.’

Clarke’s eyes narrowed. ‘Are you telling me you think you know who it is?’

‘I’m not saying it is, I’m saying it might be.’

‘And you’re going to tell me?’

There was a moment’s silence. ‘They’ve given you the case?’

‘I’m attached to MIT.’

‘Good for you. So you’re down in Leith?’ She couldn’t help but smile, and he seemed to sense it. ‘See, I might be long retired, but the brain’s still active.’

‘The brain might be active, but you’re not.’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘Only one of us is the detective these days. So give me a name and I’ll check it out.’

‘I blame modern technology, you know.’

‘For what?’

‘The short memories your generation have. You’ve forgotten how to store information.’

‘John…’ She sighed. ‘Just tell me the name.’

‘You’ve not even asked how I’m keeping.’

‘I saw you last month.’

‘Maybe my situation’s deteriorated.’

‘Has it?’

‘Not so you’d notice.’

‘That’s good to hear.’ She paused. ‘John? You still there?’

‘I’m on my way.’

‘That’s not how it—’ But Rebus had ended the call.

Clarke got up and unlocked the cubicle door, rinsing her hands before making her way back to the office. The team were trying to look busy while waiting for equipment and ancillary staff to arrive. Reid was stressing the need for a TV or monitor of some kind so they could keep an eye on the media’s treatment of the story. Leighton was adding that someone should check social media, as a source of information and rumour. They were one desk short, so Yeats and Crowther were sharing. They didn’t seem to mind, chatting among themselves until they noticed that Graham Sutherland had finished the phone call he’d been on.

‘Deborah Quant says we need a forensic anthropologist. She’s contacting…’ he looked at the note he’d scribbled to himself, ‘Aubrey Hamilton. Based in Dundee apparently.’

‘But there’ll be an autopsy?’ Callum Reid asked. He was standing by his map as if to make sure no one else claimed ownership.

Sutherland nodded. ‘With Hamilton assisting Professor Quant. Meantime, the kids’ prints have been taken for purposes of elimination. I think Haj wants them terminated rather than eliminated – stomping all over his crime scene, leaving broken glass everywhere.’

‘What do we make of the handcuffs?’ George Gamble had removed his suit jacket and sat with his thumbs tucked into the pockets of his waistcoat.

‘Good question.’ Sutherland looked at each of them in turn. ‘Any ideas?’

‘They seem to be good quality,’ Tess Leighton drawled. She sat very upright on her chair, like a disapproving Miss Jean Brodie.

‘They’re proper,’ Sutherland agreed.

‘Meaning police issue?’

‘We don’t know that yet.’

‘But around the ankles,’ Callum Reid said, shaking his head. ‘Doesn’t make sense.’

‘Unless you want to stop someone running away,’ Phil Yeats added.

Sutherland ran a finger thoughtfully down the bridge of his nose. ‘Anything to add, Siobhan?’

Clarke cleared her throat. ‘I’ve got a source who thinks he might have a name for us.’

There was a sudden energy in the room. Reid forgot about his map and marched in Clarke’s direction. ‘Go on then,’ he demanded.

‘He wouldn’t tell me.’

‘Then let’s go talk to him!’ Reid looked towards Sutherland, expecting a nod or a word, but his boss’s eyes were on Clarke.

‘Who is it exactly you’ve been speaking to, Siobhan?’

‘He’s an ex-cop. Been retired a few years. And if I know him, he’ll be turning up here in the next ten or fifteen minutes.’

‘Feel like telling us a bit about him before that happens?’

‘In ten or fifteen minutes?’ Clarke gave a little snort. ‘I doubt I’d be able to do him justice.’

Sutherland leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. ‘Give it a try anyway.’

‘They wouldn’t let me past the front desk,’ Rebus complained as Clarke led him up the stairs. ‘Time was…’

Clarke stopped, turning to face him. ‘Are you okay, John? I mean, really?’

‘I’ve still got COPD, if that’s what you’re asking. It doesn’t go away.’

‘I know. It gets worse.’

‘But somehow I’m still here.’ Rebus stretched out his arms. ‘Like the proverbial…’

‘Bad penny? Bull in a china shop?’

‘I think I was going to say “ghost in the machine” until I realised it’s not exactly a proverb.’ He paused, studying his surroundings. ‘Just like old times.’

Nothing like old times, John,’ she cautioned him, starting up the stairs again. Rebus was breathing heavily by the time they reached the landing. He took a moment to compose himself, patting his pocket to check he had his inhaler.

‘I kicked the cigarettes, once and for all,’ he informed Clarke.

‘And the booze?’

‘Just the odd tincture, m’lud.’ Pulling back his shoulders and fixing a look on his face that she recognised of old, he breezed past her into the room. Sutherland was already on his feet. He met Rebus in the middle of the floor and gripped his hand.

‘Not every day you meet a legend,’ he said.

‘Me or you?’ Rebus responded. Sutherland gave a half-smile before leading Rebus towards the waiting chair. Phil Yeats was leaning against the wall; it was his chair Rebus was settling on. Sutherland sat at his desk, hands clasped.

‘Siobhan tells us you might have some information, John. We’re grateful to you for coming in.’

‘You might not be when you hear the name. It was 2006.’ Rebus broke off and gestured towards Callum Reid. ‘You’d have been in short pants, son.’ Then, to Sutherland: ‘Is it bring your kid to work week or something?’

‘DI Reid is older than he looks.’ Sutherland was still trying for levity, but Clarke could tell it wasn’t going to last. His tone alerted Rebus, who scanned the room again. ‘Short memories, like I was telling Siobhan. If I’m right, your car most likely belongs to Stuart Bloom.’ He waited, watching as Sutherland’s brow furrowed.

‘I was still in Inverness in 2006,’ the DCI eventually said.

‘How about you, Siobhan?’ Rebus held up a finger. ‘Actually, I can help you there – you were on secondment in Fife. Three months, I think, which tied in almost exactly with the case.’

‘The private investigator?’ Clarke was nodding to herself. ‘I remember us talking about it. He did a vanishing act.’

‘That’s the one,’ Rebus said. ‘Ringing any bells?’ He looked around the room but was met by blank faces. Callum Reid, however, was already busy on his phone, starting a search of the name on the internet. The others realised what he was doing and followed suit. All except Sutherland, whose own phone had started buzzing. He pressed it to his ear.

‘DCI Sutherland,’ he said. His eyes were fixed on Rebus as he listened. Having thanked the caller, he waved his phone in Rebus’s direction. ‘Members of the public have been in touch. Other members of the public, I should say. Three of them gave the same name you just did.’

‘Private investigator from Edinburgh,’ Reid intoned, reading from his screen as he skimmed it. ‘Disappeared in March of 2006. His partner was questioned—’

‘Business partner?’ Sutherland interrupted.

‘Lover,’ Rebus corrected him. ‘Stuart Bloom was gay. Boyfriend happened to be the son of a Glaswegian murder squad detective called Alex Shankley.’

‘The boyfriend was a suspect?’ Sutherland asked.

‘No shortage of those,’ Rebus stated. ‘But when there’s no sign of foul play and a body fails to turn up…’

Sutherland had risen from his chair and walked over to the map, studying it. Rebus joined him.

‘Would those woods have been searched?’ He watched Rebus give a slow nod.

‘More than once, I think.’

Sutherland half turned towards him. ‘And why is that?’

‘Because of who owned them.’

‘Spit it out, John,’ Sutherland snapped, patience at an end.

‘The man Stuart Bloom was working for. A film producer called Jackie Ness. Ness’s house is the far side of the woods from the road.’ Rebus peered at the map, eventually pressing his finger against a particular spot. ‘There, more or less,’ he said. ‘And “house” might be doing it a disservice – more like a mansion.’

‘Ness still lives there?’ Sutherland watched Rebus shrug. He turned towards the room. ‘Get me that information,’ he demanded of no one and everyone.

‘A computer would be handy,’ Phil Yeats said. ‘My notebook’s in the car. I could go fetch it.’

Sutherland nodded. Then, for Rebus’s benefit: ‘It’s what laptops are called these days.’

‘I know that,’ Rebus retorted. ‘So what happens now?’

Sutherland grew thoughtful. ‘You worked the original inquiry. Be helpful to know what you know.’

‘Always assuming,’ Tess Leighton added, ‘it really is this guy Bloom’s car, and him in the boot.’

‘We need to keep an open mind,’ Sutherland agreed. ‘But meantime, maybe John could give a statement, just to keep everything tidy. I’m assuming the paperwork is in storage somewhere?’

‘CCU probably took most of it,’ Rebus said casually, pretending to study the map.


‘I know it’s called ACU these days, but it was the Counter-Corruption Unit in 2006. Wee history lesson might be needed for some of you. This was long before Police Scotland. We still had the eight regional forces then—’

‘Why would CCU be involved, John?’ Sutherland interrupted.

Rebus made show of thinking for a moment. ‘Well,’ he eventually said, ‘we somehow managed to make a complete fucking mess of things. CCU was just the icing on the cake, so to speak.’

‘He’s not wrong,’ Callum Reid said, eyes fixed on his phone, thumb busy. ‘Bloom’s family made over a dozen complaints during the inquiry and after. Just last year they were at it again.’

Rebus nodded slowly, eyes on Sutherland. ‘Be a lot simpler if it turned out to be just about anyone in that car other than Stuart Bloom. Any chance that it was a suicide?’

‘I think we can pretty much rule that out. Someone covered the car with branches and bracken.’

‘He might have done that before climbing into the boot, if he really didn’t want to be found.’

George Gamble gave a gravelly chuckle. ‘Ever come across a suicide handcuffed at the ankles?’

‘Handcuffed?’ Rebus looked from Sutherland to Siobhan Clarke and back again.

‘I’m not sure we want that particular detail made public just yet.’ Sutherland glared at Gamble.

Police handcuffs?’ Rebus pressed.

Sutherland held up a hand, palm towards Rebus. ‘Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Maybe we should sit down and you can tell us the story.’

‘Cup of tea wouldn’t go amiss.’

Sutherland nodded and turned his attention to Clarke. ‘Siobhan, you’re the one with the local knowledge…’

‘There’s a café across the street. Probably the best option.’

Sutherland produced a twenty-pound note from his pocket and held it out for her to take.

‘Hang on,’ she complained. ‘You want me to go?’

‘I’m delegating,’ he said with a sly look.

She snatched the note from him and walked over to Emily Crowther. ‘Off you go then, DC Crowther.’

Crowther scowled and seemed reluctant to take the money, so Clarke placed it on the desk, sliding it towards her.


  • "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
  • "Rankin remains the most consistent practitioner of finely crafted, richly detailed, literary crime novels being produced today. He's always been at the top of his game, and this latest is no exception."—Linwood Barclay
  • "In A House of Lies shows how investigations of historic crimes are currently shaping our world and who the casualties are. Thrillingly told, with the best cast in contemporary crime, Rankin is one of the most significant social commentators of our time. Just read the book. It says it better than I can."—Denise Mina
  • "Definitely not to be missed. Ian's at the top of his form here, and no reader will go away disappointed."—Peter Robinson
  • "In A House of Lies is Ian Rankin's Latest and Greatest. It is stunning. I didn't sleep for three nights reading it."—Jilly Cooper
  • "This is absolutely wonderful. Clever, gripping, a fabulous read."—Kate Mosse

On Sale
Sep 24, 2019
Page Count
384 pages
Back Bay Books

Ian Rankin

About the Author

Ian Rankin is a #1 international bestselling author. Winner of an Edgar Award and the recipient of a Gold Dagger for fiction and the Chandler-Fulbright Award, he lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, with his wife and their two sons.

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