Ian Rankin Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

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.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Bradford, Richard. The Novel Now: Contemporary British Fiction. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing, 2007. Discusses the Rebus novels as one of the mainstays of contemporary British fiction along with those of P. D. James, Colin Dexter, and Ruth Rendell, among others. Bradford notes Rebus’s depressive personality and his penchant for heavy drinking but also Rankin’s superb evocation of the seedy side of Edinburgh life.

Mullan, John. How Novels Work. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Contains illuminating, if brief, comments on Rankin’s novels. Rankin’s use of literary epigraphs, for example, is a witty way for his more sophisticated readers to puzzle through the solutions to the crimes Rebus is investigating.

Rankin, Ian. Ian Rankin. http://www.ianrankin.net. This author’s Web site includes news items (such as exhibitions of his work), new audio editions of his books, dramatic (television) adaptations of his work, and an interview of the author.

Rankin, Ian. Rebus’s Scotland: A Personal Journey. London: Orion Publishing, 2005. Evocative black-and-white photographs of buildings and places by Trish Malley and Ross Gillespie are accompanied by Rankin’s text detailing Rebus’s history, the origins of other fictional characters, and Rankin’s biography. Part memoir, part travel guide, this volume is a good introduction to the Rebus series.

Scaggs, John. Crime Fiction. New York: Routledge, 2005. Explores Rebus’s antiauthoritarian attitudes, comparing him to other detectives such as James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux, even as Rebus “serves the interests of the dominant social order.” Even though Rebus’s interests in politics are marginal, his actions help restore the political balance of society.