When I was writing this previous post, I neglected to tell you that many of the book sculptures that appeared around Edinburgh’s bookish places have visual references to Ian Rankin or his novels. Naturally, I became curious about said books.
Rankin, a Scotsman, is the UK’s number one best-selling crime writer (although he has also written literary criticism, a graphic novel, short stories, stand-alone novels, and nonfiction), having made his name on a series of police procedurals featuring John Rebus, an inspector in the Edinburgh police force. Like all the great cop protagonists (and I’m thinking of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux, for starters), Rebus—interesting name, no?—has a deep and detailed past: he was once in the army and then the SAS; he has a daughter from a failed marriage; he is a Christian, though a questioning one, with a strong sense of right and wrong. Rebus loves books and music and has a large collection of each; he is a loner and yet so compelling you’d like to sit down and have a pint with him.
I love that he is a reader. :)
I decided to start with the first of the Inspector Rebus novels, Knots and Crosses (Rankin’s second novel). It was published in 1987, so I went to Abebooks.com to see if I could pick up a used hardback. I could. I didn’t know this until the book arrived (from England), but my copy is a twentieth anniversary edition, with a nice foreword by the author about his writing process (he meant Knots and Crosses to be a contemporary reworking of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for one thing). More delightfully, the end papers of the book are facsimiles of Rankin’s original notes on the story and how he would plot it, and there is a section at the end of the book of material that was edited out of the scene in which we learn of the violence and trauma of Rebus’s SAS career (which also provides a key to solving the case).
I am most pleased to tell you that Ian Rankin made an outline for this book. Are you listening, kids? I myself love a good outline, although I am no longer astonished to learn that authors sit down and begin writing without one. And even though Rankin does outline—I’ve read that the rest of his books are intricately plotted as Knots and Crosses was—you should know he wasn’t an overnight success. The Independent tells us,
It’s hard to picture these days, but there was a time when Rankin’s name wasn’t ubiquitous at the top of the bestseller list. In fact, Rankin didn’t have any kind of breakthrough until the eighth Rebus novel (and his 15th book in all), Black and Blue, won the Macallan Gold Dagger for fiction in 1997. And even then he didn’t have a bestseller until two years later, with Dead Souls. … The Impossible Dead is Rankin’s 31st book in 25 years, a bibliography that of course includes the 17 Rebus novels, but also a graphic novel, non-fiction and several stand-alone thrillers, most recently Doors Open, an Edinburgh heist story. The idea that Rankin is known solely for Rebus is rather blown out the water by his next statement: “Doors Open was my biggest selling paperback,” he laughs. “It outsold all the Rebus books.” He shakes his head, smiling. “For the past 20 years I was wasting my time writing about Rebus.”
I disagree with that. The (London) Times says Rankin is consistently excellent. And I couldn’t get through Knots and Crosses fast enough—I really loved it. There is a very powerful sense of place in his descriptions of Edinburgh, and the rhythm of the locals’ speech patterns shines through in the dialogue. The story had a deceptively slow pace at first that drew me right in before it picked up so much speed I could barely keep up. I’ve already ordered Hide and Seek. Hooked. :)
Many thanks to the author himself, who gently (and privately) corrected some Rebus details for me.
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