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crime-fiction

He's back on the case!

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A crime-fiction lover's worst nightmare had come true. Five years ago, detective John Rebus walked off the pages of Exit Music into retirement from the Lothian and Borders Police. But it was the readers who suffered retirement blues. Never again would the crabby Detective Inspector crash into the Edinburgh establishment, heedlessly take on the menacing Big Ger Cafferty or go for days without changing clothes in his whisky-fuelled chase for the truth. And that unresolved love angle with his protêgêe Siobhan Clarke - that fleeting kiss would come to nothing?

Rebus fans had done the only thing they could: lobby and plead with Ian Rankin for the hero's return. This was not a man who could walk into the sunset to grow vegetable marrows in a rural patch. But Rankin chose to remain vague about Rebus' fate - maybe he would return, maybe not. Perhaps Siobhan would walk into her boss' hard-to-fit shoes. Then Rankin invented Malcolm Fox and gave him two books: Complaints and The Impossible Dead. They were very good but Fox wasn't Rebus.

Just as we were getting used to life without the detective, Rankin drops a bomb. Rebus is back! Apparently, the fact that Scottish retirement terms have changed will help Rebus return. The DI will be back this November in Standing in Another Man's Grave.

He will struggle to get into CID, a move that his successor Fox is going to block.

"I didn't miss him, he was gone from my head for quite a while. Yet when I sat down in January [to write a new novel] he was just there - the voice, the cynicism, the looking at the world through weary eyes, the predilection for trouble, " said Rankin at the Telegraph Hay Festival on Wednesday. The news was greeted with huge applause.

The longevity of sleuths has been a running battle between crime writers and readers. We never want them to retire, die, fade away or suffer terrible disease. But their creators want to move on to other things.

After 14 books starring him, Colin Dexter killed off Inspector Morse in The Remorseful Day. The fact that his death scene was gentle - he fades into a diabetic coma - was no comfort. Dexter said that Morse had it coming. What were readers expecting of a man who drank copiously, disregarded his doctor's advice and did not exercise?

Last year, Henning Mankell gave his angsty Kurt Wallander Alzheimer's after 12 books. In an interview to this writer, Mankell said that Wallander's disease reflected his fear of Alzheimer's (the sleuth's father develops dementia) so there was no getting around a tragic end.

The idea of Wallander losing his mind was depressing. I stubbornly refused to read The Troubled Man. For me, Wallander is still moping around Ystaad in crumpled clothes, cracking undecipherable murders, in control of his faculties. That is the only revenge readers can enjoy.

Over a hundred years ago Arthur Conan Doyle, keen to start work on historical literature, sent Sherlock Holmes hurtling down Reichenbach Falls with Moriarity in a death-grip. The furore against Holmes' death was loud enough for Doyle to raise him from the dead. As Ruth Rendall sensibly said of her Inspector Wexford - who is showing no signs of slowing down or dropping dead - why kill someone you have to bring back anyway?

Few crime-writers would admit that their popularity lives with their super-sleuths. Compare the hysteria over the announcement of their whodunits' exits to the popularity of, say, Mankell's works on Africa, Doyle's historical novels or Rankin's Jack Harvey books.

In his last Harry Hole book Phantom, Jo Nesbo throws his readers into a maddeningly vague climax. It leaves readers tearing their hair out wondering about the brilliant alcoholic sleuth's mortality. Will we see him again? Nesbo teases that the series is closer to the end than not. And Hole is not eternal, is he? So all helpless crime fans, Brace yourselves for another personal literary tragedy.

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