Excerpt from A Question of Blood by Ian Rankin, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Question of Blood

An Inspector Rebus Novel

By Ian Rankin

A Question of Blood
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2004,
    416 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2005,
    544 pages.

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Rebus turned on his side, using his legs to push free the sheets. It was a two-way fight, like Harry Houdini in a straitjacket. The man in the next bed over had opened his eyes and was watching. Rebus winked at him as he levered his feet into fresh air. "Just you keep tunneling," he told the man. "I'll go for a walk, trickle the earth out of my trouser leg."

The reference seemed lost on his fellow prisoner. . . Siobhan was back at St. Leonard's, loitering by the drink machine. A couple of uniforms were seated at a table in the small cafeteria, munching on sandwiches and crisps. The drink machine was in the adjoining hallway, with a view out to the car park. If she were a smoker, she would have an excuse to step outside, where there was less chance of Gill Templer finding her. But she didn't smoke. She knew she could try ducking into the underventilated gym farther along the corridor, or she could take a walk to the cells. But there was nothing to stop Templer using the station's PA system to hunt down her quarry. Word would get around anyway that she was on the premises. St. Leonard's was like that: no hiding place. She yanked on the cola can's ring pull, knowing what the uniforms at the table would be discussing -same thing as everyone else.

Three dead in school shoot-out. She'd scanned each of the morning's papers. There were grainy photos of both the teenage victims: boys, seventeen years old. The words "tragedy," "waste," "shock," and "carnage" had been bandied about by the journalists. Alongside the news story, additional reporting filled page after page: Britain's burgeoning gun culture...school security shortfalls...a history of suicide killers. She'd studied the photos of the assassin-apparently, only three different snaps had so far been available to the media. One was very blurry indeed, as if capturing a ghost rather than something made of flesh and blood. Another showed a man in overalls, taking hold of a rope as he made to board a small boat. He was smiling, head turned towards the camera. Siobhan got the feeling it was a publicity shot for his water-skiing business.

The third was a head-and-shoulders portrait from the man's days in military service. Herdman, his name was. Lee Herdman, age thirty-six. Resident in South Queensferry, owner of a speedboat. There were photos of the yard where his business operated from. "A scant half-mile from the site of the shocking event," as one paper gushed.

Ex-forces, probably easy enough for him to get a gun. Drove into the school grounds, parked next to all the staff cars. Left his driver's-side door open, obviously in a hurry. Witnesses saw him barge into the school. His first and only stop, the common room. Three people inside. Two now dead, one wounded. Then a shot to his own temple, and that was that. Criticisms were already flying -how was it possible, post-Dunblane, for Christ's sake, for someone just to walk into a school? Had Herdman shown any signs that he might be about to crack? Could doctors or social workers be blamed? The government? Somebody, anybody. It had to be someone's fault. No point just blaming Herdman: he was dead. There had to be a scapegoat out there.

Siobhan suspected that by tomorrow they'd be wheeling out the usual suspects: violence in modern culture...films and TV...pressures of life ...Then it would quiet down again. One statistic she had taken notice of -since the laws on gun ownership had been tightened after the Dunblane massacre, gun offenses in the UK had actually risen. She knew what the gun lobby would make of that . . . One reason everyone at St. Leonard's was talking about the murders was that the survivor's father was a member of the Scottish Parliament -and not just any MSP. Jack Bell had found himself in trouble six months back, apprehended by police during a trawl of the red-light district down in Leith. Residents had been holding demonstrations, petitioning the constabulary to take action against the problem.

Copyright © 2003 by Ian Rankin.  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher.

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