Exit Music by Ian Rankin Orion, HK$170 It was the book fans had been waiting for. The final novel in the series. Would the hero be killed off, would any of the other major characters die? Who would survive the showdown between good and evil? Sound familiar? The echo wasn't lost on Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin as he addressed an Edinburgh Book Festival audience in August in the run-up to the publication of the last in his series of novels featuring hard-drinking Detective Inspector John Rebus. He joked he'd considered calling the book 'Inspector Rebus and the Deathly Hallows', but the title had already been taken. In fact, Rankin's website had run a competition for fans to guess the novel's title. Suggestions included The Pride of Mr John Rebus, Rebus Will Die, Ashes to Ashes and The Final Cut, which, although incorrect, won for ingenuity. Rankin later announced that Exit Music, a political thriller set in November 2006, would chart the last 10 days of Rebus' career with the force. Rankin wrote the book before this year's Scottish elections, making the job of predicting the political landscape a difficult one. The plot, centring on the murder of a visiting dissident Russian, is as much about Scottish and personal identity, as it is about detection. If there is uncertainty about the future of Scotland, there are as many questions about the void that threatens to be the detective's future. 'Pipe and slippers these days,' Rebus tells his friend Big Podeen early in the book, 'cocoa and in bed by 10'. Later we find Rankin musing about the terrifying prospect of retirement for workaholics such as himself. 'That was that, then. End of the line, end of the job ... For three decades now this job had sustained him, and all it had cost him was his marriage and a slew of friendships and shattered relationships ... He would become invisible to the world,' Rankin writes. Rebus doesn't have much time to mope about his last days in the job though, as he's catapulted by the events of a murder most foul. Russian poet Alexander Todorov is found with his head beaten to a pulp on Edinburgh's dark and forbidding King's Stables Road at the same time as a Russian business delegation is in town, which is considering buying into Scottish property. The delegation is doing business with Scotland's potential future independent political leaders and the powerful First Albannach Bank, as well as cosying up to Rebus' old gangster nemesis Big Ger Cafferty, and Rebus and former protegee Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke have to work out whether the murder is related to their visit. A second murder complicates matters further. Although the issue of Scottish identity is central to the plot - 'some argued that independence would spoil things, others that it would build on the success while dealing with devolution's failings' - 'You think we need independence? Maybe ... just so long as people like First Albannach don't go scuttling south' - it doesn't slow the novel's pace. And although the reader is told in advance that Rebus would survive his final battle between the 'overworld' and 'underworld', there is a twist in the final pages. It is comforting to know that although there are unlikely to be any more books featuring DI Rebus, Rankin is contracted for two more novels. Can Rebus the man, rather than the cop, make a return? The author hasn't ruled it out. As for the title, Rebus' knowledge of, and taste for, early pop rock and whisky has almost defined his fight against crime in the 16 previous novels. The 17th is no exception. 'John Martyn was singing about some people being crazy. A little later, he would move on to Grace and Danger itself, followed by Johnny Too Bad. Singing my whole life story,' John Rebus told his whisky glass.' Later, we find him eschewing the morbidity of Leonard Cohen for Rory Gallagher. 'He played ... Big Guns and Bad Penny, Kickback City and Sinnerboy. The whisky slipped down, just three large ones with about as much water again.' Finally, Clarke propels the technophobe detective into the future by presenting him with an iPod at his retirement bash. ''I've already loaded it,' she tells him after he protests he would never master the technology. 'The Stones, Who, Wishbone Ash ... you name it.' 'John Martyn? Jackie Leven?' 'Even a bit of Hawkwind.' 'My exit music,' Rebus commented with a look close to contentment.' In 1987, when Rankin wrote Knots and Crosses, the first Rebus novel, which was supposed to be a mainstream one-off, he was reportedly unhappy to be categorised as a crime writer. Luckily for us, he overcame that to become a master of the form.