A BUMPER volume of all Rankin’s DI John Rebus short stories. Spanning the irascible Edinburgh cop’s entire 20-plus-year career, they include much-loved favourites with previously unpublished pieces, including two new tales written specially for this collection, The Passenger and A Three-Pint Problem.

A superb introduction to one of crime fiction’s best detectives.

THE ISSUE

Twitter has shut down several Islamic State accounts. You’d think the reasons for that would behave been obvious, but no, some news agencies have found it necessary to point out that tweets of beheadings violated Twitter’s terms of use. The aggrieved extremists responded by calling for the assassination of Twitter’s management.

‘‘That’s a jarring thing for anyone to deal with,” said Twitter boss Dick Costolo.

Equally jarring, perhaps, is the suggestion that sooner or later someone is going to have a civilised conversation with these people. That, essentially, is the gist of a controversial new book, Talking to Terrorists: How to End Armed Conflicts (Bodley Head), by Jonathan Powell, the chief broker of the Northern Ireland peace deal.

But Powell, who believes democratic governments should talk to groups like the Taliban, Hamas and even al-Qaeda, writes: ‘‘The mechanics of engaging with [IS] are more difficult, but that is not a reason for thinking it’s impossible to talk to them or even to find an agreement.”

The paradox at the heart of Powell’s book — that it is both politically necessary and morally repugnant to talk to terrorists — is a difficult one. It is, of course, unlikely that any Western leader would consider such a possibility before the IS’s forces have been carpet-bombed into dust.

But Powell, who believes democratic governments should talk to groups like the Taliban, Hamas and even al-Qaeda, writes: ‘‘The mechanics of engaging with [IS] are more difficult, but that is not a reason for thinking it’s impossible to talk to them or even to find an agreement.”

Writing in the London Sunday Times, former Canadian politician Michael Ignatieff said that, despite his best efforts, Powell could not identify ‘‘the secret sauce” for successful negotiations.

“What is striking is how much each deal he surveys — Northern Ireland, South Africa, Aceh [Indonesia], Colombia — depended on personal chemistry, uncommon leadership and blind good luck,” Ignatieff noted.

‘‘Any politician looking for future guidance will come away from this book understanding that when you negotiate with terrorists, you take political life, and sometimes your actual life, in your hands.”

And, Ignatieff suggested, there are certain demands that won’t be up for discussion. ‘‘In the controversial and fascinating argument of this book, it’s not always clear where that non-negotiable line must be drawn.” 

THE BOTTOM LINE

“A vast quivering mass of tormented, hungry, careworn and bewildered human beings gape at the ruins of their cities and homes and scan the dark horizons for the approach of some new peril, tyranny or terror. Among the ‘victors’, there is a Babel of jarring voices; among the vanquished, a sullen silence of despair.” — 1946: The Making of the Modern World by Victor Sebestyn (Macmillan)

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