UK’s no. 1 crime writer to revive detective hero

On his first visit to India, the UK’s number one best-selling crime writer, Ian Rankin, shared privileged information about his protagonist, inspector John Rebus, central to his multi-award winning detective fiction series.

The Scottish writer introduced the hardy, cynical and antisocial Edinburgh cop in the book Knots & Crosses in 1987 and concluded the series with Rebus retiring in Exit Music in 2007.

In Mumbai on a tour organised by the British Council, Rankin revealed that Rebus could soon make a comeback.

“Rebus is merely retired not dead. He is working with the police department as a civilian. He lives in a compartment in my head, waiting patiently to be brought back to life,” said Rankin.

The author had almost disposed of Rebus with a gunshot in the first draft of Knots & Crosses.

“I had just started out as a novelist. The book was meant to be a one-off. It’s lucky I changed the ending,” said Rankin, who at the time hadn’t realised that the world-weary Rebus would drive an entire crime fiction series (17 until Rebus’ retirement).

“He became an excellent device through which I could write about contemporary Scotland. The figure of the detective had access to every layer of society, the money-makers and the dispossessed.”

But Rankin had to struggle with Rebus for many years before the acclaim started pouring in with Black and Blue, the eighth Rebus novel that became the number one bestseller in the UK.

The new politics of terror that shaped the nature of fear post 2001 hasn’t yet featured in his gripping novels.

“I wrote about the IRA but it’s funny how they are no longer the bogeyman. There is always something to be frightened of. The ideas for my novels generally start with something in the news,” Rankin said.

After retiring Rebus in 2007, Rankin attempted to exorcise the character by introducing Malcolm Fox, another Edinburgh cop in his latest novel, The Complaints.

But the brooding detective Rebus is likely to make an appearance in a Rankin short story this year.

“It’s set in a brewery. It should be interesting as I haven’t written about Rebus in about four years.”