Although Ian Rankin’s Inspector John Rebus owes something to the detectives in the hard-boiled school of mystery fiction, he has none of the romantic aura that imbues characters like Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade or Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. Rebus is the epitome of the detective as demotic hero. He is an ordinary man whose humor is his saving grace. Rankin’s emphasis on the Edinburgh locale, attention to the city’s class structure, and willingness to develop several plot strands at once are a deviation from the melodrama of most mystery and detective fiction. Rankin’s aim is not so much to create mysteries per se but to use the genre of detective fiction as a vehicle for a realistic appraisal of society and modern manners. Like Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse, Rankin’s Inspector Rebus is an odd man out, although the Oxford-educated Morse has none of Rebus’s working-class alienation.
Rankin does not like neatly tied up plots—a hallmark of mystery and detective fiction. Crimes are solved but only up to a point; in other words, not all the guilty parties are punished or even exposed. Indeed, the solution of one crime in a Rebus mystery often leads to the discovery of crimes elsewhere. Old cases get opened, which often means that the detective has to confront the mistakes of his past. The sociology and psychology of crime intersect in ways that Rebus can hardly apprehend.
Rankin’s Black and Blue (1997) was nominated for an Edgar and won a Gold Dagger Award from the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA). He won a Macallan Award (now CWA Short Story Award) in 1996 for “Herbert in Motion” and received the Edgar Award for Resurrection Men (2002) in 2004. In 2005 Rankin received the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for Dead Souls (1999) and the Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement from the Crime Writers’ Association.