‘Nobody wanted to nail Morris Gerald Cafferty (known to all as Big Ger) as badly as John Rebus did. He wanted a full-scale crucifixion. He wanted to be holding the spear, giving one last poke just to make sure the bastard really was dead. Cafferty was scum, but clever scum.’ (The Black Book)
The third Rebus novel Tooth & Nail is notable for the introduction of Morris Gerald Cafferty – aka ‘Big Ger’ – the gangster who runs Edinburgh, and Rebus’s chief adversary. Cafferty’s first appearance is just a cameo, but he clearly made an impression with the author and he returns throughout the series like a dark shadow. Cafferty runs a criminal organisation that uses intimidation, bribery and murder to deliver what he wants and he has no hesitation in giving it out personally. Cafferty is a favourite character of the Rebus novels, albeit a slippery one, and Ian himself has admitted that bringing Big Ger into a new book gives him a ‘lift’ during the writing process.
Ian has commented that Cafferty emerged in The Black Book ‘as a fully formed presence, the epitome of moral and spiritual corruption. He may not enter proceedings until halfway through, but the effect is chilling’. Cafferty brings an ambiguity with him: very like Rebus in some ways, but Rebus will never acknowledge it. Both men are ageing fast, finding the changing landscape unsympathetic. They are two sides of the same coin: Cain and Abel? More like Jekyll and Hyde. ‘Rebus himself knew the rumours: that he was too close to Cafferty, that they were too much alike in so many ways’ (Resurrection Men)
In Mortal Causes, the relationship between Rebus and Cafferty becomes more complex. Ian has acknowledged that this was due to the influence of the New York writer Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder. ‘Scudder (an ex-cop and a man with his own strict moral code) related to a tough-guy hoodlum called Mick Ballou. It was as if they understood one another, maybe even respected one another . . . yet if either got in the other’s way, only one of them would emerge standing’. Rebus ends up asking Cafferty to help him with a case; a decision tantamount to making a pact with the devil, so that by the end of the book the relationship between Rebus and Cafferty has changed in ways that resonates through the rest of the series. By the time we meet Cafferty in The Naming of the Dead, he is repeatedly visiting Rebus at his flat to offer insights into his case, and Rebus relies on information that Cafferty passes on. Rumours fly that Rebus is in Cafferty’s pocket.
Cafferty’s presence is often found in the background of the cases that Rebus and Clarke are working on – but there is never enough evidence to make an arrest. In Exit Music, Cafferty has saved Rebus’s life and Rebus returns the favour in a big cliffhanger ending. Somewhat mutually dependent, their relationship harks back to that between Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, or Jekyll and Hyde, and this recurring theme of duality has a clear link to the Gothic crime thriller The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg, a book that Ian has acknowledged to be a major influence on his work. The further evolution of this connection in Even Dogs in the Wild shows how very significant this relationship is.