Last Updated on October 22, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 435
Detective Inspector John Rebus
Rebus is a detective inspector with the police force in Edinburgh, Scotland. He excels at his job, being both tenacious and adept at gathering the threads of an investigation. His abilities shield him against the anger of his superiors, whom he often irritates with his tendency to strike off on his own. A man essentially alone but with a multitude of acquaintances, Rebus has few close friends. His social life consists mainly of sitting alone in one of his favorite pubs. At one point, he welcomes an additional case to be solved as "the perfect excuse to ignore Christmas." He struggles with alcoholism, and in the novel, he sleeps with the sister of a murder victim after a bout of drinking.
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Ger "Big Ger" Cafferty
Big Ger is the boss at the top of the Edinburgh criminal underworld. Released from jail because of a cancer diagnosis, which Rebus suspects has been faked, Big Ger suddenly reappears in Edinburgh halfway through the book. He is unfailingly charming and unruffled, but he can be brutal and merciless when dealing with those who stand in his way. He seems to seek Rebus's approval, as well as acceptance that they are bound together in a way. Rebus never gives him the smallest satisfaction in this regard but is not above seeking Big Ger out when the gangster has information he needs.
Siobhan is Rebus's fellow detective, who is very proficient at her job. She is confident of her own worth but frustrated by the male dominance she meets at work. Like Rebus's, her private life is solitary, though not necessarily lonely. She briefly lets her guard down with her colleague Derek Linford but quickly severs ties with him. Rebus is her confidant and mentor, and she shows signs of following him down the path into alcoholism.
Chief Superintendent "Farmer" Watson
Watson is nearing retirement and tired of the job. He is openly hostile towards Rebus but respects his abilities as a policeman. Near the end of the novel, Watson suddenly rebels against his superiors, tired of their endless political maneuvering and fear of the press, and comes to Rebus's rescue when he is threatened with suspension.
Linford is a climber, ambitious and unashamedly obsequious towards his superiors—that is, the complete opposite of Rebus. He reveals a little self-insight and authenticity with Rebus's colleague Siobhan, only to begin stalking her when she drops him. He unashamedly shifts the blame for his actions onto Rebus and Siobhan. An excess of self-confidence, in addition to his inexperience, lead to him suffering a vicious beating that leaves him hospitalized.