Knots & Crosses originally published in 1987 is the first of the incredibly successful Inspector Rebus novels by Ian Rankin. I was introduced to the series during my teenage years by an uncle who had the entire collection. Now I’m introducing my husband to them and taking the opportunity to re-read them myself.
In this first book Edinburgh has been rocked by the abduction and subsequent killing of two young girls. To those investigating there appears to be no link between the girls and no clear motive. Throwing man power at the enquiry John Rebus along with a number of colleagues is assigned to the investigative team. As a side story we are also introduced to Rebus’ brother Michael, a cabaret show hypnotist, small time drug dealer and focus of journalist Jim Stevens’ next big story. Throughout the case, John is haunted by his past in the SAS and an unknown person is sending him notes with bits of string and crosses. With more girls being abducted and killed can John put together the pieces to prevent the killer getting to those John loves?
As my adult reading has progressed I’ve developed a fondness for books that are set in areas that I know and where authors are true to the geography. I like to be able to follow the movements of a story as it plots it way across a city. It’s one of the things I love about Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series. On re-reading Rankin’s first novel I’ve come to realise it is quite possibly within his pages that this liking developed. In this first novel he creates a perfect picture of Edinburgh in the late 1980s, a city that is above others, is grander, more refined and certainly not a place where hard hitting crime, like the abduction and murder of little girls, takes place. Rankin treats Edinburgh with the same care and attention he does his main characters ensuring the reader sees depth to the city understands the different faces of the city and recognises that its part in the storyline is more than just a map for events to be played out on. Edinburgh is Rebus and vice versa.
It is very easy to paint the picture of John Rebus in your head. A troubled man, he is gruff, unkempt, a chain smoker (although trying to quit), a drinker of sorts and a man of few words. John Rebus is definitely not a people person, and yet, within that moodiness is a vulnerable man and it is this side of Rebus that makes him such a compelling lead character and makes us care about him. We forgive his surly behaviour, his grumpiness, his personal demons because at the heart of the book Rankin reveals to us that Rebus cares. What matters to him is solving the crime, not necessarily the working out.
I’ve purposely not talk about the story for two reasons, the first, I don’t want to give anything away and secondly, I believe the importance of this first book is as a gateway into the world of Rebus, it is the Foundation upon which mighty tales will be built.