Rebus: Long Shadows/Malvern Theatres

THE theme of the maverick loner who refuses to acknowledge that his professional days are over is a rich vein of drama that has been mined by many a writer.

The gunslinger forced out of retirement by the young pretender who’s just ridden into town… the old lag convinced that just one last crime foray will reap the riches that have so far eluded him.

Then there’s the former cop who just can’t let go of the image, returning like a ghost to haunt the scenes of unfinished business. Ian Rankin’s celebrated character fits this particular identikit perfectly.

John Rebus meets the daughter of a murdered woman on the stairwell of the Edinburgh high rise where he lives in drink-sodden retirement. He remembers the case from his time at the nick and can’t resist taking up the challenge of finally solving the crime.

Charles Lawson is a towering colossus in the starring role. An ardent practitioner of the Life on Mars interrogation instruction manual, he thinks nothing of grabbing and then twisting villain Neil McKinven’s sensitive areas to get information. Dixon of Dock Green he ain’t.

Meanwhile, the women in this piece appear like disembodied souls, taunting and cajoling, urging Rebus on like jockeys whipping horses to the finishing line.

Cathy Tyson plays former sidekick Siobhan Clarke with an iciness that’s straight from the morgue, while Dani Heron and Eleanor House materialise like phantoms stalking an abandoned graveyard.

Nevertheless, when it comes to sheer, unadulterated brooding menace, the prize must surely go to John Stahl as Cafferty, a man whose liking for expensive wines is only surpassed by his appetite for clinically administered violence.

Rebus remains, however, stuck in the permafrost of a man who can’t let go of an identity defined by a job. There are plenty about.

Rebus: Long Shadows runs until Saturday (October 20) and is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seats.

John Phillpott