Crime Fiction Alphabet – Letter I

Rebus’s Scotland: A Personal Journey by Ian Rankin is my choice to illustrate the letter I in Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet.

If you like the Rebus books, like me, then you’ll also like this book. It is fascinating to read, with insights into Ian Rankin’s own life and that of the character he has invented, along with his thoughts on Scotland and the Scottish character. It’s partly autobiographical, blending his own life with Rebus’s biography. It also describes many of the real life locations of the books, in particular Edinburgh, Rebus’s own territory.

I particularly enjoyed Ian Rankin’s views on writing – how writers mine their own experiences, reshaping their memories to create fiction and the similarities between novelists and detectives:

Both seek the truth, through creating a narrative from apparently chaotic or unconnected events. Both are interested in human nature and motivation. Both are voyeurs. (The Edinburgh-born Muriel Spark says that she and her fellow novelists ‘loiter with intent’ – playing on the idea of a criminal activity.) I certainly enjoy dipping into other people’s lives, giving fresh texture and tone to them, while Rebus has his own reasons for prying into everyone else’s secrets. (page 31)

He went on to quote from The Hanging Garden and then The Falls giving Rebus’s reasons – which were ‘to stop him examining his own frailties and failings.’

I’ve read all the Rebus books – links to my posts are in the Author Index (the tab at the top of the blog). Some of these are brief and last year I decided to make a page on each one to flesh them out a bit more. So far, that just remains an intention, although the parent page has a list of all the books. In preparing to write Rebus’s Scotland Ian Rankin re-read all his Rebus books. Here is his own analysis:

Authors seldom read their own work: by the time a book has been published, we’re busy with our next project. When a story is done, it’s done – reading it through would only make most authors want to tinker with it. Having said that, I enjoyed the majority of the Rebus novels. Knots & Crosses I thought wildly overwritten – definitely a young man’s book. Dead Souls possesses too many characters and story-lines: at points it confused even its author! But several books which had seemed real chores to write surprised me with their deftness – Set in Darkness and Let it Bleed especially. (I think they probably seemed chores because of the amount of political detail they had to embrace – it’s never easy to make politics seem exciting to the layman.) (page 125)

Throughout this book Ian Rankin quotes liberally from his books to illustrate the points he makes. He begins with a chapter on the place where he was born and grew up, which was in the same cul-de-sac as John Rebus – even in the same house. But really, of course, Rebus was not born there. He was created in a bed-sit in Edinburgh where Rankin was living and writing. He deals with Rebus’s ‘prodigious intake of alcohol‘, the Oxford Bar, his taste in music, the city of Edinburgh (Rebus’s territory) and Fife, where Rebus and Rankin have shared memories. I like the way he writes about Rebus as though he were a real person, sometimes admitting that he’s not sure what Rebus will do, but at the same time acknowledging that he is his creation.

An excellent book. My only criticism is that I would have loved it to have an index – maybe I’ll do one for myself

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Orion; New Ed edition (1 Jun 2006)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0752877712
  • ISBN-13: 978-0752877716
  • Source: my own copy

3 thoughts on “Crime Fiction Alphabet – Letter I”

  1. Margaret – Oh, this is a fine choice for “I!” I’m a Rebus fan, too, and I’m sure this sheds some real insight on the books, the characters and so on. Another for my TBR…

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  2. Do you have to know Edinburgh to appreciate this? It’s a city I’m afraid I’ve never visited, so I’m not sure if I’d get much out of the book.

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