Authors: Ian Rankin
‘As always, Rankin proves himself the master of his own milieu. He brings the dark underside of Edinburgh deliciously to life … Rankin’s skill lies mainly in the confident way he weaves the disparate threads into a cohesive whole’
‘His novels flow as smoothly as the flooded Forth, and come peppered with three-dimensional characters who actually react to and are changed by events around them … This is Rankin at his raw-edged, page-turning best … With Rankin, you can practically smell the fag-smoke and whisky fumes’
‘A first-rate thriller’
‘The internal police politics and corruption in high places are both portrayed with bone-freezing accuracy. This novel should come with a wind-chill factor warning’
‘Real life and fiction blur in this cynical, bleak tale. You’ll love every second of it’
‘No other writer in his chosen genre is producing books as rich and comprehensive as this: Dickensian, you might say’
‘Rebus is a masterful creation … Rankin has taken his well-earned place among the top echelon of crimewriters’
‘Rankin writes laconic, sophisticated, well-paced thrillers’
‘First-rate plotting, dialogue and characterisations’
Born in the Kingdom of Fife in 1960, Ian Rankin graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1982, and then spent three years writing novels when he was supposed to be working towards a PhD in Scottish Literature. His first Rebus novel,
Knots and Crosses
, was published in 1987, and the Rebus books are now translated into over thirty languages and are bestsellers worldwide.
Ian Rankin has been elected a Hawthornden Fellow, and is also a past winner of the Chandler-Fulbright Award. He is the recipient of four Crime Writers’ Association Dagger Awards including the prestigious Diamond Dagger in 2005 and in 2009 was inducted into the CWA Hall of Fame. In 2004, Ian won America’s celebrated Edgar award for
. He has also been shortlisted for the Anthony Awards in the USA, and won Denmark’s
Prize, the French
Grand Prix du Roman Noir
. Ian Rankin is also the recipient of honorary degrees from the universities of Abertay, St Andrews, Edinburgh, Hull and the Open University.
A contributor to BBC2’s
, he also presented his own TV series,
Ian Rankin’s Evil Thoughts
. He has received the OBE for services to literature, opting to receive the prize in his home city of Edinburgh. He has also recently been appointed to the rank of Deputy Lieutenant of Edinburgh, where he lives with his partner and two sons. Visit his website at
The nineteenth of March 1985 was a big day for me. I was a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh, studying the novels of Muriel Spark. My thesis, however, was proving less important to me than my own writing. I’d started with poetry, then found some minor success with short stories. A first novel had failed to find a publisher, but my second attempt had just been given the thumbs-up by a small Edinburgh-based outfit called Polygon. That novel was titled
, and on 19 March I went to the Polygon offices to sign my first ever book contract. I recorded the event in my diary, where, however, it was reduced to second billing after the following: ‘It’s happened. An idea for a novel (crime thriller) which started as one situation and has blossomed into a whole plot. I’ve not written any of it yet, but it’s all there in my head, from page one to circa page 250.’
By 22 March I was working on this new story, and two days later recorded that ‘it needs a working title; I’m going to give it
Knots & Crosses
’. I certainly remember sitting in a chair in my bedsit, directly in front of the gas fire, and toying with the pun of noughts/knots and crosses. Rebus, it seems to me now, entered as a fully formed character, complete with estranged wife, young daughter and fragile sanity. When I started writing, I did so on an electric typewriter, at the table by the window. I stared from that window at the tenement opposite, and decided that Rebus would live there, directly across from my own digs at 24 Arden Street, Marchmont, Edinburgh.
By late October, I had finished the second draft of the book: ‘two hundred and ten pages of sixty per cent satisfactory prose’. I had an agent by this time, and she suggested some changes, the most substantial of which involved cutting a large part
of the central flashback section. This I did, making the book leaner, but no less potent.
Knots & Crosses
is a pretty nasty book, dealing as it does with a serial killer who preys on children. I’m fairly sure I meant it to be a contemporary reworking of
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
. Having studied Stevenson’s masterpiece as part of my thesis, I was intrigued that he chose to set the story in London. Yet it remains a very Scottish novel, based as it is (at least partially) on the real-life Edinburgh character Deacon William Brodie, who was gentleman by day, criminal by night.
At the time, I had no interest in reading detective fiction, and no knowledge of police procedure. I also had no notion that
would be the first book of a series. This led me blithely to give Rebus a complex personal history and a name which was one of many in-jokes in the book (a rebus being a pictorial puzzle). In fact, rereading the book now, I find myself blushing at the number of literary puns and references (including nods to Spark, Mailer, Anthony Burgess and Thomas Pynchon). Rebus himself is too well-read, quoting from Shakespeare and passionate about Dostoevsky. He thinks like the student/novelist who created him, rather than as a real cop. The sky is described as being ‘dark as Wagnerian opera’, while the phrase ‘the manumission of dreams’ sent me (in 2005) to a dictionary. I’m guessing it was a word I’d only just learned in 1985, and I was keen to show it off. I was a young man in love with language, striving for a voice and sometimes overreaching.
The story is set in 1985. At that time, most of the shops on Princes Street closed on a Sunday. There was an ABC cinema (now an Odeon) on Lothian Road and a Mr Boni’s ice-cream parlour (now defunct) at Tollcross. People used telex machines, but no one had a mobile phone. And when Rebus sought out a bar, he tended to choose one with larger quarter-gill measures (since replaced by their metric equivalent). Already,
Knots & Crosses
feels like a historical document, written in and about an Edinburgh that no longer exists. As for the book’s hero, well, he’s changed in time as well. In this, his first outing, he listens to jazz mainly, using a Nakamichi cassette deck, probably the same one my girlfriend Miranda had bought for me. Later on, I would switch his preference to rock music. And though I’ve never really described him physically in any of the novels, here we learn that he has brown hair and green eyes (same as me). He’s also meant to be a possible suspect, which is why I make him so troubled, suffering weird flashbacks and with a spare bedroom in his flat that’s kept permanently locked.
Some of the secondary characters in
would become useful to me in future books. The journalist Jim Stevens would play a role in a non-Rebus novel (
) before reappearing in the series. Rebus’s brother would return, as would his fellow detective Jack Morton. And Gill Templer is still around, her relationship with Rebus coloured, even after all these years, by the events of this first novel. In later books, of course, I take Rebus into real police stations and real pubs. But the Edinburgh of
is altogether more fictive: Rebus’s police station is sited on a non-existent street, and bars such as the Sutherland remain figments of my imagination.