Ian Rankin’s The Naming of the Dead takes its title from a ceremony organized by protesters at the G8 summit of world leaders in Gleneagles, Scotland, in July, 2005. The marchers climbed to the top of Calton Hill in Edinburgh and solemnly read the names of lives lost during the Iraq War as a dramatic feature of their antiwar demonstration.
Rankin’s sixteenth novel in the Detective Inspector John Rebus series is set during the week of the summit, and the ceremonial reading of names captures some of the political resonance of the hundreds of thousands of people who came to Edinburgh during that week. The title also signals other deaths, such as the victims whose killer Rebus is seeking, and others murdered during the course of the novel. The novel opens with Rebus at the funeral of his younger brother, Michael, who had apparently died of a massive stroke at age fifty-four. On a much broader level, the naming of the dead suggests remembering all losses and the lament voiced by Rebus that often one can do little except name them. Despite that, Rebus is determined to seek justice and prevent further murders by at least one killer, a serial killer in the case at hand.
Rebus has been with the Crime Investigation Department (CID) of the police in Edinburgh (the Lothian and Borders Police) for many years. He is nearing mandatory retirement, which he does not want to contemplate. Work is essentially his only interest, other than smoking and drinking too much and knowing a lot about popular music. Most of his superiors and some of his fellow officers, however, would be glad not to have him around. Except for his colleague and protégée Detective Sergeant Siobhan “Shiv” Clarke, he is basically a loner, antithetical to supervision, an unpredictable “rogue” cop who follows his own rules. That he is obsessively dedicated and solves his cases has made him a legend, but that too serves to distance him from most of the others. More than once it is suggested to him that he just coast through his last year on the force. Rebus is weary, depressed about his brother’s death, frustrated with his superior officers, and more introspective than ever, but he will not slack in his work. He does not even want to know how to.
Despite the many hundreds of extra police and law enforcement personnel from different agencies who have been assigned duties connected with the G8 summit meeting, his superior, Chief Constable James Corbyn, specifically excludes Rebus as a troublemaker and orders him to stay behind at the police station. Rebus gets involved anyway, when a call comes in that the body of a Labour member of Parliament, Ben Webster of Scotland, has been found on the ground below the walls of Edinburgh Castle during a high-level political meeting and party. The word is that Webster committed suicide. Rebus thinks it equally likely that he was pushed rather than jumped, especially when Rebus learns that Webster was campaigning against the arms trade.
Also going on at the same time is a case involving the murders of at least three men, all of whom were recently released from prison for rape or sexual-assault crimes. Siobhan Clarke has been assigned the case, with Rebus to work with her, even though he outranks her. The top police are not particularly interested, considering who the victims are. Now new evidence has been found at Coolie Well, where possible clothes of the victims have been left displayed in a wooded grove, as though the killer is leaving clues and daring the police to catch him or her. Chief Constable Corbyn orders Clarke and Rebus not to work on the case because he does not want the media to report such local embarrassments when the world is focusing on Edinburgh and the G8 summit. When he learns that they are still pursuing it, he suspends them from duty. They continue anyway.
Rebus learns that there is a Web site that provides alerts about sexual-assault criminals being released from prison. It seems designed to encourage…