Interview: Ian Rankin

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Rebus is back! Just a year since the publication of Standing in Another Man’s Grave, the ex-cop’s comeback that had him working in a cold case unit, now Rebus is an Edinburgh detective once again for the latest book, Saints of the Shadow Bible. He got in thanks to a raising of the retirement age – but he’s had to take a demotion due to cuts and impending police reorganisation.

A new Rebus means a heavy schedule for Rankin, who’s heading across the UK, Canada and the US – check out his dates here. The tour kicked off last night at Waterstones Piccadilly in London, where Rankin spoke about life as a best-selling crime author and signed copies of the Waterstones edition featuring an exclusive short story. The Edinburgh-based author described his irritation at US changes to his books (Fleshmarket Close was renamed Fleshmarket Alley), spoke about his musical passions including the late Irish rocker Rory Gallagher, and revealed how a lady in his local supermarket complained about his fictional gangster ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty living in their neighbourhood. He also took time to talk to CFL about the new Rebus novel.

saintsoftheshadowbibleAfter the Scottish road trip for your last novel, how did you enjoy the journey into Rebus’s murky past for the investigation in this book?
It started with a retirement party I went to with lots of old cops telling outrageous stories about the way that policing used to be in the early 80s, and I would excuse myself and go away and type all the stories into my phone. It got me thinking, when we first met Rebus he’d already been a detective for several years – so how did he become the cop that he became? On top of that the police in Scotland were doing away with double jeopardy, which meant they could prosecute old crimes even if a person had been found not guilty.

Did your research with these retired cops remind you of the no-nonsense policing in the TV series Life on Mars?
Oh yeah, totally, that’s it – we’re all fascinated by Gene Hunt. Rebus represents that kind of dinosaur, that sort of old-style cop with a bottle of whisky in the bottom drawer who would give the suspect a slap in the interview room. That type of policing is pretty much gone now and if you’re Malcolm Fox [Rankin’s internal affairs character from The Complaints] you think good riddance.

Most of the cops Rebus works with think his way of doing things just doesn’t work. The world is changing very quickly and in the last couple of books mortality’s kind of staring him in the face. But in this new book he proves himself useful in various ways. I mean none of these young, nice touchy-feely cops have got grasses they can go and talk to in seedy pubs around the city, they’re too busy sitting at their computers or on Twitter or Facebook.

But throughout Saints of the Shadow Bible we’re never quite sure how complicit Rebus was with the old cops who bent the rules.
Yeah well good, I’m glad I didn’t give it away too early. I like there to be a bit of moral ambiguity. Right at the end of the book you go, ‘Oh, wait a minute – is he really a nasty piece of work?’ Although I’m on his side, is he the kind of guy who’s best avoided if you were to meet him in real life? The answer to that is probably yes.

standing_in_another_mans_graveThere’s some great sparring between Rebus and Fox who, after their mutual loathing in Standing in Another Man’s Grave, have to work together in this book.
I was trying to get across to the reader there are games being played here, and what’s being said may not necessarily be what the person really thinks. You’re never very sure, are they going to hinder each other or are they going to come to a mutual understanding?

The 2014 independence referendum is a presence in this book. Would you relish writing Rebus in an independent Scotland?
When you have conflict, when you have times being uncertain, when you have political instability it makes for very interesting books. Rebus is a conservative with a small c, he doesn’t like change he doesn’t trust change, he is very much someone who enjoys the status quo and for that reason, if no other, he’d probably vote no.

Kickback_sleeveAre you going to stick with Rebus for next novel?
I don’t know what the next book will be. Hopefully it will still be a crime novel, but it depends on me getting a question I want to find an answer to or a theme I want to explore in a crime novel. If it can be then Rebus is about as good a character as any.

There isn’t going to be a novel next year, my publisher is going to put out a collected stories and I’m going to write two or three new ones. I’ve just written a long short story called The Lie Factory for a Rory Gallagher album project [Kickback City]. That was a lot of fun, because I wanted it to be a story that Rory would have enjoyed and Rory loved 1940s and 50s American pulp fiction, so I did a PI story.


Did you realise you were the youngest author (at 53) to appear alongside the greats on the CWA shortlist for its best ever poll?
Really? God, I didn’t know that. In fact, I’ll tell you who I voted for. For best crime novel I voted Bleak House, for best crime writer I put down Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. For best detective I think I put down Dalziel by Reg Hill.

Black & Blue from 1997 probably secured your place on the shortlist. Is that still a novel you’re proud of?
Yeah, it was the breakthrough. All the books leading up to that were an apprenticeship, it was me getting to know the crime novel, what you can do with it, getting to know this character Rebus. It’s a more thematically complex book than the previous books. It just shifted me from the mid-list to the bestseller list. So thank God that book came along.

cuckooscalling100Finally, do you remember you predicted back in 2007 that JK Rowling was going to write a crime novel?
She’s a huge fan of English Golden Age detective stories – Margery Allingham and Dorothy L Sayers. When she finished Harry Potter I thought she might well do a detective story, I just didn’t realise she’d do it under a pseudonym. What I’m slightly miffed by is that when her publisher was sending out pre-publication copies [of The Cuckoo’s Calling] to crime writers saying can you give us a quote for the front, they never sent me one! I’ve not read it yet; I think my son’s giving it to me in my Christmas stocking.

Saints of the Shadow Bible is out now. Look out for a review this week.

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