I have always been a fan of crime and espionage novels, cutting my teeth on Len Deighton and John Le Carre. So, it is somewhat surprising that I came late to Ian Rankin.
I’d heard of Rankin’s Detective John Rebus and seen the odd TV show (while John Hannah and Ken Stott are fine actors, neither, in my view represented the man as I would to come to envisage him). But it wasn’t until we took our youngest son to view Edinburgh University that was I properly introduced.
Following that visit my wife bought me the first eight Rebus novels in paperback.
I started reading Knots and Crosses mainly because it was based in the city I’d just visited. I immediately fell in love with the book and its central character.
It didn’t take me long to build up what has become an enduring relationship. By the time I had read the eighth novel – Black and Blue – I was hooked.
I had empathy with Rebus. He had become my ultimate anti-hero. He showed contempt to bureaucracy and snubbed his nose at authority – unless the superior had earned his respect.
He inspired loyalty and reciprocated to his own detriment. He was clever in both a streetwise and a ‘don’t get mad get even’ way. Yet he was vulnerable and had his shortcomings.
He was old school and got the job done. I loved him. I think he represented the person many of us would like to be. The subtext was: be true to yourself.
What really hooked me was Ian’s writing style. It was descriptive, but not over indulgent. For example: “He had a gaze that said it wouldn’t miss much” tells you in one sentence everything you needed to know about the character.
The settings are real: I’d visited the places – Oxford Bar, Arthur’s seat, the view from Rebus’s apartment in Marchmount.
The plots are real: dealing with topical issues, but without passing judgement. They are well researched and of course have the prerequisite twists and turns, often with leftfield surprises.
As well as investigating the crime, the root causes are examined and the novels become a comment on social history – from the 80s to the present.
Throughout the series the characters interweave, we get to know them and Rankin inspires us to really care about them. Even some of the bad guys.
The latest book – In a House of Lies - doesn’t disappoint. During several books we have been concerned that Rebus will take the ultimate fall. This much awaited book, features Rebus now deep in retirement, yet desperate to be involved.
As ever Ian keeps us on edge. Gangster ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty features – and bizarrely I have the same apprehension over his fate. Could they ever live happily ever after?
You’ll have to read In a House of Lies to find out – and go and hear Ian Rankin at the Marlborough LitFest.
Tim Thurston has had a career in the media. He was Managing Director of several county magazines – including Cotswold Life. Then he founded Team-i – which provides courses in teamwork, leadership and business development. He is also a presenter on Swindon’s 105.5FM - co-hosting Mind Your Own Business which looks at the issues affecting the area’s businesses, and Roundabout Swindon – a weekly show featuring local events and activities.
Ian Rankin is at Marlborough Town Hall on Sunday, 28 September at 7.30pm. Tickets can be bought in person at the White Horse Bookshop (cash & cheques only), at the LitFest website or by phone (0333 666 3366 – with a £1.75 booking fee).