The Path from Rankin to Rebus

Ian's literary influences

‘As a kid, I sought out stories of all kinds’ (Ian writing in Rebus’s Scotland)

The young Ian Rankin devoured books borrowed from his local library such as A Clockwork Orange, The Godfather and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, as well as the detective novels featuring John Shaft. He spent his pocket money on the novels of Frederick Forsyth and enjoyed the literary novels of James Hogg and Robert Louis Stevenson, later using the Jekyll and Hyde story as a template for the first Rebus novel – in fact the theme of duality is a key feature of the series. As a student of American literature he was heavily influenced by US crime writers James Ellroy, Elmore Leonard and Lawrence Block. Ellroy’s White Jazz was a major influence on the writing style of the eighth Rebus novel Black & Blue – the novel that won the 1997 CWA Gold Dagger.

Ian was also interested in the revival of Scottish literature in the 1980s. In his book Rebus’ Scotland he writes: ‘I wasn’t aware of Scottish writing of any contemporary vibrancy until Alasdair Gray’s Lanark came along – at just the right time for me. Lanark was a teeming, confident novel about Scotland past, present and future, and came as a welcome respite from books that seemed always to be looking over their shoulder to historical mistakes and grievances. Suddenly readers were turning to the urban experience of Glasgow for insights into the world, and writers such as Gray, James Kelman and William McIlvanney were happy to oblige’.

As a student Ian concentrated on writing poetry and short stories, winning several literary prizes for stories written when he was supposed to be studying. Ian chose the works of Muriel Spark as his PhD subject. Her influence is clear in his use of the supernatural and his references to Scotland’s dark history, yet his Rebus stories contrast sharply to the squeaky-clean Edinburgh of Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The Edinburgh in the Rebus novels harks back to that of Stevenson and Hogg and even to the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle .