You don't have to have read all of Ian Rankin's John Rebus mysteries (I haven't) to enjoy the latest, Rather Be the Devil, but it would help. For one thing, you would know something about Detective Inspector (Ret.) John Rebus, DI Siobban Clarke, DI Malcolm Fox, and Edinburgh crime boss (and Rebus nemesis) Big Ger Cafferty. Fortunately, while it may increase your pleasure in the book knowing all the past cases involving these characters, Rather Be the Devil stands on its own.
I guess you could read the book for the puzzle, and Rankin is a master of inventing plausible criminal puzzles. Edinburgh is large enough to have a substantial criminal underworld, small enough that a player in that would could reasonably have played a very minor part in the unsolved 1978 murder. Teasing apart all the threads along with Rebus, Clarke, and Fox is one of the book's pleasures.
Another pleasure comes from being in the hands of a crackerjack writer. Here are the book's first four sentences:
Rebus placed his knife and fork on the empty plate, then leaned back in his chair, studying the other diners in the restaurant.
"Somebody was murdered here, you know," he announced.
"And they say romance is dead." Deborah Quant paused over her steak.
One more example. Malcolm Fox has been left in the station house where he's been reading a book that may be relevant to the case. Rebus asks where the rest of the team working the case has gone. Fox says,
"They're also going through Chatham's house, seeing if there's anything on his computer or tucked away in a drawer somewhere . . ."
"While you're left her to read a library book?" said Rebus.
"Playing to one of my many strengths."
"What? Basic literacy?"
How many mysteries make you laugh out loud?
Yet another pleasure, which may be based on an illusion, is seeing the way the Scottish police work, the bureaucracy, the mechanics of how the system works. I say it may be an illusion because I have no idea whether what Rankin describes is accurate or not. Suffice it to say, the procedures, the infighting, the limitations, and the eventual results sound spot on. I still sure to what Rather Be the Devil refers; that, however, did not diminish my pleasure at all.