I've been reading Standing in Another Man’s Grave, the newest novel by Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin. I like the book a lot but I won’t really do a proper review — other people do that better than I.
I mention it because this book strikes me as sort of a landmark: it’s the first crime novel I’ve read that really makes social media part of the story in a believable, matter-of-fact way.
The venerable John Rebus, no longer an inspector but a retired adjunct to Edinburgh’s cold-case unit, is drawn into a case involving the disappearance of several young women over the course of a decade. The cases all seem unrelated until Rebus discovers that in two of them, pictures from the women’s cell phones were sent to someone on their contact lists shortly after the women were last seen.
Over the course of the investigation, Facebook and Twitter and texting and streaming video all play a significant role. The aging Rebus is something of a luddite, but he’s also a shrewd cop. Even while sometimes bemoaning the obsolescence of shoe leather, he’s quick to use anything that will give him an edge. I appreciate that all this stuff is just another tool to him, nothing gee-whiz about it.
While the book seems at first to be just another yarn about a serial killer — that hoariest of plot devices — it slowly becomes something a lot more interesting. This is why Rankin is among the most popular crime writers around: It’s Rebus’ 18th outing, and he’s still bringing something fresh to the party.
While Rebus can be a bit tiring with his constant references to 60s and 70s rock (and repartee that sometimes seems a bit too contrived), it’s nice to see he’s not gone all Andy Rooney on us. He might not have a Twitter account, but he knows how to access yours.