Author of the Month

Name: Ian Rankin

First Novel: Knots and Crosses

Most Recent Book: Exit Music

'This is the book that all Rebus fans have been dreading for years…'

It is a matter of days to Rebus’ retirement and he is no longer the power he was. Yet he is still determined to discover who or what is behind the murder of a dissident Russian poet.

The body is found, apparently mugged and robbed, in a quiet Edinburgh street. High-powered Russian businessmen are in town courting favours with the new political power in Scotland. Rebus believes that, in trying to tie up some loose ends in his casebook before he retires, he may have stirred up his old enemy, “Big Ger Cafferty”.

One more murder and a brutal attack on Cafferty himself leave Rebus himself under suspicion. Will he survive the last few days without being detained?

This is the last book where DI Rebus operates as a detective inspector in the Lothian and Borders police force. His retirement is imminent. This is reflected throughout the book, both in his physical condition as he struggles to keep up with younger colleagues leaping up tenement stairs and in his wish to tie up a few loose ends - in particular in relation to his old enemy “Big Ger Cafferty”.

Rebus’ colleagues and superiors are very aware that he won’t be with them much longer. Siobhan Clarke, his trusted sergeant, is tipped for promotion and is already feeling her feet - running the show her way - which is in many ways Rebus’ way. This sense of the story coming full circle is emphasised by the way the book starts. “The girl screamed once, only once, but it was enough.” The exact same beginning as the first Rebus novel, Knots and Crosses.

As ever, this story is set against the background of real events, including the growth of the influence of the Scottish Parliament and the poisoning of the Russian, Litvinenko, in London. The series as a whole cleverly tracks the development of political power and attitudes in Scotland and, in particular, reflects the growth of the city and the attitudes of the people of Edinburgh.

Rebus is an old fashioned cop who is beginning to feel out of place in the modern force - as is seen in his asides to Siobhan, who definitely represents the modern face of policing. His background and history seem to take much from Rankin’s own life, especially his interest in music. The strength of the series is, I think, the highly resonant and deep humanity of Rebus. He is nobody’s idea of a team player and can definitely be unpleasant at times. Yet, he doggedly works to bring the criminal to book. He doesn’t care too much about offending officialdom and there is vicarious pleasure to be had in watching him upset the “high hidyans”.

Rebus’ life revolves mostly around his job, as his relationships always seem to fail. Alcohol – and, especially, the drinkers at the Oxford Bar - are his closest companions. We must wonder what is left for him after the job finishes.

After Rebus, the next most important “character” in the book is Edinburgh itself. The detail of the modern life of the city is beautifully observed and described against the backdrop of both ancient and modern buildings and streets. This contributes greatly to the reality of the story. The motives of the new politicians and elite in Edinburgh, in particular, are carefully noted.

This is the book that all Rebus fans have been dreading for years… Yes, I am sad to see the end of the series but, if Rankin’s sense of reality and real-time storytelling are to be honoured, he had to go. Naturally, I do wonder (and hope!) if he may appear in a future book? Perhaps as an unofficial support for Siobhan – or, more likely, a thorn in her flesh!

Farewell Rebus, you’ve served us well.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) As it slowly evolves and increases in popularity, crime fiction seems to be organically sub-dividing into a number of widely diverse categories. Which genre (or sub-genre, even…) of crime novel would you say you write in?
I suppose I write police procedurals, except that my main character (Rebus) is more part of the American private eye tradition - he often operates at one remove from the official police inquiry.
2) What type of crime novels do you prefer? Do you prefer series or standalone?
I don't have a preference. There are some series I'll always turn to, but I enjoy standalones, too.
3) The big one - is this really the end of Rebus, or will he appear again in a different guise?
I have no plans for Rebus. I'd guess that if I use Siobhan (his colleague) as the central character in a future book, Rebus will be somewhere in the wings. But I've got enough ongoing non-Rebus projects to keep me busy until 2009.
4) Would you consider starting a new series with a completely different hero, and if so would it also have to be set in Edinburgh?
I don't know if I'd want to start a completely new series; I'd prefer to try a standalone.
5) The crime genre provides a vehicle for describing characters and their interactions, political commentary and much more. Do you think a crime novel will ever be considered for a mainstream literary prize such as the Man Booker?
Ah, the perennial question. It is not inconceivable that a crime writer could be shortlisted for the Booker - we've had crime writers longlisted in the past. But would those books then have 'transcended the genre' and no longer be regarded by critics as crime novels...? I think all we can do, as crime authors, is keep writing better and better books which are relevant to the world around us and ask big moral questions of our audience.
6) Has the huge popularity of Rebus taken you by surprise? Will it, perhaps, be liberating to explore another central character or characters?
Rebus's success hasn't taken me by surprise because it has been anything but overnight. My first few books sold not many copies. Black and Blue (my 11th or 12th novel) got noticed, but it was another couple of books before I began to dent the UK top ten, and a book or two after that before I was making serious money. The success has been incremental. Will it be liberaring to explore other characters (or even genres)? Sure, but I don't know yet if I'll be any good at it.
7) Without giving away the plot, which book - yours or by another author - included your favourite plot twist of all time?
Casino Royale. The twist near the end got me. Also, the first time I watched the film version of Sleuth, I didn't see the twist coming (okay, so I was young at the time).
8) What is your favorite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
It's a toss-up between the first Godfather film and L A Confidential.
9) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
God, there are so many authors I like. James Lee Burke, Ruth Rendell, David Peace, Denise Mina, Chandler, Dibdin, Ellroy, Lawrence Block, George Pelecanos, PD James, Val McDermid, Kate Atkinson (when she's writing crime), Louise Welsh, Allan Guthrie, Derek Raymond, Daphne Wright, Elmore Leonard, Ed McBain, Joseph Wambaugh, Michael Connelly, Paul Johnston, Chris Brookmyre, Peter Robinson, Henning Mankell, Fred Vargas, Peter Temple, Kathy Reichs, Laura Lippman, S J Rozan, Reg Hill, James Sallis, Ken Bruen... over 30 names and I've only just scratched the surface. Soon as we finish, I'll think of embarrassing omissions! Mark Billingham, for example.
10) What is your favourite crime read of all time?
I often re-read Chandler's The Big Sleep. I also really rate Ellroy's White Jazz. Bleak House is pretty good, too.