April 2005

Clayton Moore


An Interview with Ian Rankin

Ian Rankin is one of the best crime writers who ever got into the bloody business by accident. On his way to a doctorate in Scottish literature at the University of Edinburgh, he began exploring his dark, baffling city by writing about a grim detective inspector named John Rebus in his debut novel, Knots & Crosses. Rebus is an unapologetic hard-drinking cop with sharp instincts but a tenacious knack for getting himself in trouble.

Through the course of sixteen Rebus novels, Rankin has painted a detailed portrait of a European city at the end of the twentieth century, showing the depths of its humanity by detailing its crime and its effect on its populace. He has earned the Gold Dagger for fiction for Black & Blue and won last year’s prestigious Edgar Award for Resurrection Men.

In his latest book, Fleshmarket Close, Inspector Rebus is drawn into the sordid world of illegal housing schemes. An asylum-seeker has been murdered. Nearby, his partner Siobhan is investigating the matter of two skeletons found buried beneath a concrete floor in Fleshmarket Close.

Ian took the time to talk to us at the tail end of a short American tour before returning to Scotland for some well-earned time off. Although he won’t finish another Rebus novel this year, he will complete Rebus’ Scotland, a travel guide for fans of the series, and write new introductions to each book in the series, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2007.

Particularly in the past couple of books, Rebus has increasingly investigated immigration issues and racial tension. Is that tension reflective of the crime happening in Edinburgh?

Like all my other novels, Fleshmarket Close started with a real-life incident. There was a murder of an asylum seeker on the streets of Glasgow, the other main city in Scotland. That made me think a lot about the Scots and about racism and the myth of how welcoming we are to strangers. We have a big thing going on just now where politicians keep telling us we have a depopulation problem -- that the population is going to dip below five million soon and we won’t have enough people paying income tax to pay for all the social provisions. So we need immigrants but when they come, they don’t get much of a welcome.

The series as a whole is like a big jigsaw puzzle, I think, and I’m trying to add little bits to the jigsaw. Who are the Scots and what was Scotland like at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century? It’s part of an ongoing process. There’s no big plan for the series. When I get something that’s bugging me, some question I want to try to answer, whether it’s racism or asylum seekers or pedophiles or war criminals, it could be anything. I just dump everything on Rebus as a way of dealing with it.

Fleshmarket Close also seems to be reflective of your interest in crime’s effect on the community around it, a trait that you share with many other crime writers. Was that always your intent or is it something that has evolved over time?

I arrived in Edinburgh in 1978, aged 18, to go to college. I came from 20 or 30 miles north, a little tiny coal mining town of about 7,000 people. The city seemed big and complex. I couldn’t really understand what made it work, what made it tick. I couldn’t really understand the psychology of the people who lived there and so I did what I had always done as a teenager. I just wrote stuff down as a way to explain it to myself.

There are really two Edinburghs. There’s the city that the tourist sees which has the castle and people eating shortbread and playing bagpipes and wearing kilts. That’s fine. That’s really the Disneyland aspect. However, there is a real living, breathing city just below the surface that people very seldom see. In the 1980’s when I was there trying write books, Edinburgh had one of the worst drug problems in western Europe in a real heroin mainline problem and one of the worst incidence of HIV/AIDS as well. No one was talking about it and no one was doing anything about it. Everyone pretended that everything was fine because it was just below the surface. I thought, well, someone has to write novels about these real-life contemporary things because no one was doing it.

Is trying to understand John Rebus helping you to understand Edinburgh?

He’s my way of going through the city and John Rebus gets access to parts of the city that I would never get access to. He can go into jails and talk to the prisoners. He can go down into the really rough housing schemes and talk to the dealers and the prostitutes hanging about outside. I go near any of those people now and I get my name in the paper. He’s got the power and the anonymity that I just don’t have.

That’s one reason I chose a detective as a character. I wasn’t a huge fan of detective fiction when I started writing the books. I just thought a detective was a great way of getting access to every nook and cranny. He can be talking to the politicians and the judges and the business people who run the city one minute and the next minute he can be down in the stews talking to the prostitutes and the down-and-outs and the people who have absolutely nothing. He’s a great tool for that dissection of society.

Is it hard to lose your own anonymity? I know the Rebus walking tours of Edinburgh end at your local, the Oxford Bar.

It’s a shame, yeah? There are Rebus walking tours in Edinburgh where a professional tour guide takes you around, but Rebus lives and exists in a real city. He lives in a real street, works in a real police station and he drinks in a real bar but I think people are terribly disappointed when they come into the Oxford because they want John Rebus. They don’t want me. They don’t want to see this quiet and well-adjusted guy sitting at the back table doing a crossword. They want the dark and dangerous, complex, damaged individual that is Rebus. There have been times when visitors don’t believe it’s really me. I’ve had to show them photo ID!

You got into the crime section of the bookstore by accident. Are you more at ease with your identity as a crime writer now?

I am. I was doing a PhD, a doctoral thesis on the Scottish novel and I was preparing to be a professor of English literature. I was doing my thesis on Muriel Spark. I was doing just enough work that that wouldn’t kick me out but what I was really doing was writing my own book. During the three years that I got grant money to do thesis, I wrote three books in three years.

The first book was published as a mystery novel and it went up to the crime section of the bookstore. I then started reading crime fiction the final year of my studies instead of reading about Muriel Spark. I was reading Chandler and Hammett and Ruth Rendell and P.D. James. Immediately, I liked the strong sense of place that you get in crime fiction, the strong central character, the traditional storytelling with that strong sense of a beginning, a middle and an end. I like the games that you can play in a crime novel. I found that everything I want to say about the world I can say quite nicely in the crime genre, so why do anything else?

They were also the kinds of books that my Dad read. I thought, do I want to spend seven years at university writing books that are only read by people at university, like James Joyce’s Ulysses, or do I want to write the kind of books my Dad would read? It was a pretty simple answer.

At the same time, your books are unusual in the world of crime novels for having somewhat open endings.

Open endings are notoriously hard to push past editors and also some readers. When Let It Bleed was published, it had a very open ending. Hide & Seek has one as well. The American publisher said please, Ian, can you add a chapter just to tie up the loose ends, so I did.

One reason the crime novel has not been taken as seriously as it should be by the academics and by the literary establishment is because of that sense of closure. There’s that sense that things are wrapped up too neatly in a crime novel, therefore it is not like real life. Having talked to cops, sometimes they don’t get that sense of closure. Sometimes they get the wrong guy for the right reasons or the right guy for the wrong reasons. They’re not always satisfied even if they get a result in a case. I wanted to bring some of that feeling across. I wanted the novels to be realistic to the extent that it isn’t always wrapped up at the end. Sometimes readers ask me what happened to a certain character or what happened next and I tell them, “You have to decide what happens. It’s finished as far as I’m concerned and you have to decide what happens next.”

I know you have commented that it’s frustrating for crime novels to be overlooked for certain literary prizes like the Booker or the Whitbread.

It’s changing a little bit and it’s changing slowly. You can now study crime fiction at university. You can study the Rebus novels in high school in Scotland. I know that because I get long emails from 16-year-old students with lots of questions they want me to answer, to which I always answer, “Do the work yourself. No one ever helped me when I was a student. Muriel Spark never came across to help me with my thesis.”

You’re right, though. The big prizes are the Booker and the Whitbread and they are for literature. You never get a crime novel long listed for those prizes, let alone short listed. The Queen, God bless her, gave me an Order of the British Empire a couple of years ago for “Services to literature.” That was important because it wasn’t services to “Genre fiction which you read on a train journey and then discard when you get to your destination.” If the Queen is starting to take crime fiction seriously, surely everybody else is going to follow suit.

You once said that because Rebus is a good detective, it makes him a bad social human being.

Well, there is this sort of cliché of the loner detective but the reason it’s a cliché is because it’s true to a certain extent. I know plenty of good detectives who are too good. They get wrapped up in a case and they get too involved. They never let it go and they never go home and even if they do, they can’t unwind. They very seldom see their kids. When they all sit around the table, they’re not thinking about dinner; they’re thinking about the case. They are thinking about the next person they have to interview or about things they might have missed.

The very things that make them good, dogged detectives make for bad relationships. That’s why there are a lot of divorces in the police and a lot of heavy drinking. They get disengaged from family life and the police force becomes their alternative family. The job that they do means they can’t go home and talk about their casework so they don’t get to let off any steam at all except with other cops. You can’t go home at night and tell your family, “I had a terrible day -- two rapes, a suicide, a junkie overdose…” so you just bottle it all up inside. Eventually it means the family loses out.

Rebus is realistic to the extent that the job was his mistress, his wife and his family. He certainly pushed his own family away. It’s a shame but it’s much like Edinburgh. Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities in the world but Rebus can’t see it because of the job that he does. For him, it’s just a series of crime scenes that haven’t quite happened yet.

Is it difficult to find the lines that Rebus will and won’t cross?

Several times I’ve taken him very close to the edge. There is an intertwined relationship that he has with a gangster called Cafferty. They are a bit like Cain and Abel. They have very similar backgrounds, very similar ways of looking at the world and in some ways they are both dinosaurs. They’re the last of their breed -- the old fashioned gangster and the old-fashioned detective. They actually could get along very well and you never know if Rebus is going to be seduced by Cafferty’s way of looking at the world or whether in the last scene of the final book, they’ll end up killing each other. It could go either way. They could be best friends or they could become mortal enemies and you’re never quite sure how it’s going to end.

I have to ask -- we know that Rebus is forced to retire when he turns sixty years old.

The clock is ticking fast. Fans are getting worried. They’re sending lots of emails to my web site suggesting that I just go back in time and talk about his early stuff before we first met him or to stop the clock so that he doesn’t get any older. I mean, P.D. James has been writing the Dalgliesh novels since the early sixties and he never seems to get any older.

If he retires, Siobhan can be the official cop but Rebus can still do all the dirty work for her because he’s no longer a cop so he can break as many rules as he wants. There are many ways the series can go. I have to write at least two more Rebus novels because I have a deal to do them. By the time I’ve written those, he will be knocking on the door of sixty, which is when you have retire as a policeman in Scotland. One fan came up with an interesting supposition on one of the tours, actually. She said that fans should start petitioning the Scottish parliament to change the age of retirement for cops so that Rebus can stick around until he’s 65.

Do you want to stay in the genre or are you itching to try something different?

At the moment, I’m happy writing the books I write because everything I want to say about the state of the world I can say in a crime novel. Maybe an idea will come along eventually and I won’t be able to contain it in a mystery novel. If that day comes and the idea comes, I’ll have to write that story.

I have some ideas piled up in a folder at home for things that I don’t think are necessarily crime novels. One of them feels to me like a stage play. We just at the moment have a new National Theatre of Scotland that is just on the starting blocks and they are looking for scripts. If and when I get tired of Rebus, maybe I’ll try my hand as a playwright.

Maybe I’ll get a real job. Whenever I go to the Oxford Bar for a drink, they always ask, “Ian, when you going to get a real job?”

I heard about that! It’s Harry the barman…

Ah, Harry’s no longer the barman. Harry now owns the place. The old owners were John and Margaret Gates. In my books, the pathologist professor Gates is actually John Gates who owned the Oxford Bar. They retired a few weeks ago but they handed the keys over to Harry. So now Harry is no longer the rudest barman in Scotland, he’s now the rudest landlord in Scotland.

The Oxford Bar is a good example of someplace where you started to use real places and events in your books, as is the serial killer Bible John. At what point did you decide to go that direction?

I suppose it all started clicking around the time of Black and Blue, which was based on the real-life serial killer case around Bible John. He was never caught and so in Black and Blue I used him as a character in modern times. I was always afraid he would come after me and sue me for misrepresentation but he hasn’t done it so far.

I suppose what happened… I went to great pains to create this fictionalized Edinburgh. I used fictional pubs and fictional police stations. People reading the books in Scotland started saying, “Oh, that’s obviously this police station because of where it’s set and that’s obviously that pub because it’s behind the main shopping street.” I thought, why the hell am I making it so hard on myself? Why not just use the real places? Once I found out that I wasn’t going to get sued, I started doing it more and more. Rebus shops in real record shops. He drinks in real bars.

That said, using real places can give you problems and I’ll give you an example. Fleshmarket Close opens with Rebus having to change police stations. Why the hell does he change police stations? Because in real life, St. Leonard’s, where he worked, ceased to have a detective division based there. A friend of mine who is a cop in Edinburgh sent me a text message on my phone that just said, “Ha ha ha. St. Leonard’s no longer has any CID guys.” I thought, for the fifty or sixty readers that actually know that, I have to change the whole series and so I did. He has to move from St. Leonard’s to somewhere else.

I love it, though, that Rebus isn’t given a desk and has to sit next to the coffee maker. It’s just like Rebus not to have a place to be.

Nobody wants him there. There’s no place for him anyway and he’s surplus to the requirements -- they already have a detective inspector. He likes it, though. He likes being on the outside looking in so it suits him. It gives him a good excuse not to be at his desk.

Did you know that Black and Blue was going to be the breakthrough book?

I felt it. When I started plotting it and started writing it, I could feel that it was a different kind of book. It was initially given an injection from my close and passionate reading of James Ellroy. I went on a real tear with him. If you read the opening pages of Black and Blue, there’s a real James Ellroy feel to them -- very staccato sentences with a lot of slang that you might not know but that gives a lot of mood and character. I knew the book was going to be a lot darker and use a real-life case, which I had never done before.

I had served an apprenticeship by this state. I had written seven novels about Rebus and I felt like I knew how to do it. I was comfortable in the genre and I was ready to start taking some risks and pushing Rebus a bit further. I can take him away from Edinburgh. I can talk about Scotland as a whole. I can talk about the political situation or the economic situation. I can bring in this real-life serial killer. I can do anything I want.

To me, it felt like a big important book. My publisher didn’t see it. When I gave it to my publisher, they said yeah, okay, another Rebus book. They were actually getting close to dumping me. They were saying, “Ian, we’ve tried everything. We’ve tried promoting you as best we can and it’s not working. You’re still selling a few thousand copies. We’re going to see if another publisher can do any better.” I turned around and won the Gold Dagger that year for 1997. The book sold four times as many copies as previous books and it was short listed for the Edgar award. It won a few awards overseas. Suddenly, I felt like I could make a living doing this. Up to that point, it was very fragile ground I was walking on.

Then a few years later, Resurrection Men ratcheted interest up yet again…

To some extent, every book is a little bigger. When you tour the states, you see bigger audiences every time and readers that are more passionate about your work. You start to think it’s actually working. I get hundreds of emails a week so you know people are reading them. They’re translated into 27 languages at last count. What I do find important is what people are getting out of this. If you’re sitting in Japan or Korea or Hungary, sitting reading these books, what are they getting out of it?

They were written specifically for me. They were written for me to try to make sense of the city that I live in. It’s flattering but it’s very odd to me to have this huge worldwide audience listening in, as it were, to my stories.

Just like James Ellroy in Los Angeles or Larry Block in New York, you’re painting a portrait of a city.

That’s what I’ve been trying to do. It’s this sort of very long-term project. I mentioned James Joyce before. He once said of Ulysses that he tried to recreate Dublin so that if the city ever disappeared, they could build it again brick by brick just by reading his novel. I feel like that about the Rebus series. If Edinburgh were to disappear in a puff of smoke, you could bring it back to life using my books as a template.

There’s a Dashiell Hammett exhibit that has just opened in San Francisco. Are you going to roll over in your grave when they put an Ian Rankin statue up in Edinburgh?

I think that will be a long time coming, although I have to say that back in my home town of Cardenden, population 7,000, they have named a street after me. It’s Ian Rankin Court. The guys in the Oxford Bar say that being in a court is just where I belong, for crimes against literature.

Have you followed the controversy over Jenny Brown’s comments that Scottish books need to be sexed up?

This has always been an ongoing debate in Scotland but we come from a dark place. The philosophy of life in Scotland… we’re very Calvinist and very negative individuals. The cup is always half-empty for us. It’s never half-full. You can’t change that overnight. You can’t suddenly make Edinburgh a swinging, metropolitan, Barcelona-style culture where all of a sudden we’re all sitting around drinking lattes. You can’t do it. The literature has always been gothic. If you go back to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll & Hyde or James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner -- my god, just listen to that title. Even if you go back to Muriel Spark, there’s a very dark undercurrent there and you can’t suddenly start telling sparkling and witty stories. I mean, you can, but the books aren’t necessarily set in Edinburgh. Alexander McCall Smith lives two doors away from me and writes these sparkling and witty books but they’re set in Botswana. That’s much easier to do when they’re set in a nice hot climate.

One of your neighbors is J.K. Rowling as well and even her work is dark in places.

She lives at the top of the road, yeah. She’s said that Hogwarts is actually based in the Highlands. She writes with a real lightness of touch. I think there’s a difference between Edinburgh writing and Glasgow writing. Glasgow tends to be about the working class and its negative side, about unemployment and drugs. Edinburgh has a lighter touch. Sure, you have Trainspotting but you also have Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, a good Edinburgh lad, and Alexander McCall Smith and his lighter books.

You’ve said that Glasgow crime is a mugging and Edinburgh crime is grave robbing.

There aren’t many crime writers in Glasgow at the moment even though it has seven times the crime rate as Edinburgh. You think that would be the place all the crime writers are writing but the problem is that all the deaths in Glasgow tend to be neighbors killing each other over a drug stash or someone falling out of a window because they’re drunk at a party or because of different religions or different football strips. The Protestants are killing the Catholics and the Catholics are stabbing the Protestants. We don’t have that as much in Edinburgh. The crimes tend to be hidden or they’re conspiracies, things happening under cover of darkness. It is a city in the pattern of grave robbers. It was the city of Jekyll & Hyde, where the template for that story was a real-life Edinburgh character named Deacon William Brodie, who was a gentleman by day and a burglar and murderer by night. He gave Stevenson his story. That’s the place that Edinburgh is -- if people are smiling are you, you’re in trouble.

Have your influences changed as time has gone by?

I was always more interested in the American urban crime novel than the British crime novel. I had no time for the cozy Agatha Christie stories. I wanted to write about the contemporary city and the problems that we have. To me, the American novel was the template. It was all the James’: James Crumley, James Ellroy, James Lee Burke, James Hall. That list just keeps going.

I’m friends with Michael Connolly, Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos, all three of which I’ve managed to catch up with this week. We all respect each other’s work and we all think we’re trying to do different things in different cities but there’s a kind of moral core that we share. There’s a morality to our books that says that justice isn’t always done. The justice that you get in courts isn’t always the kind of justice that satisfies. When a murder is satisfied, it isn’t the beginning of the story; it’s the middle. We shouldn’t forget that fact because murder has ripples. You never go back to being the same. The people that investigate these crimes never go back to being the same as they were before they started the investigation. The people’s whose lives have been affected, the victim’s families, even the murderer themselves are profoundly changed. That’s why murder is still the most interesting crime for us to write about because it is the only crime where something unique is taken away from the world, something that can’t be replaced. I think when you write crime novels, you have a responsibility not to just write these slasher stories that have lots of sex and violence in them but to write about people who are doing a really moral job.

On that same note, a couple of observations. The first is that guilt plays a big part in who Rebus is. The second is that Matt Scudder quit drinking but that Rebus is unapologetic in his habits. I could go on all day on these two subjects. Rebus does feel a lot of guilt. He’s an Old Testament sort of guy. He’s a different generation from me. I’m 44 and he’s about 57. He sees the world in terms of black and white, evil and good. My job, because I’m more liberal than he is, is to try to change his mind about things. That’s why I’ll introduce a pedophile into a story, Rebus outs the pedophile, who will then be murdered and Rebus will feel guilty about it. It makes him solve the crime and it makes him change his mind about some issues.

I give him these big moral quandaries to work on. Yeah, he probably drinks more than he would get away with in the police these days. He is a dinosaur and he’s the last of a dying breed and the cops know it. One of the reasons I keep him drinking and smoking is because the chief constable, who’s the head guy in the Edinburgh police, has reviewed the books in newspapers and said that he finds Rebus to be a believable character. Okay, he drinks and smokes too much and we might try to do something about that as an organization but as long as it doesn’t affect his work and he is a bloody good cop, we’d let him get on with it.

One problem Rebus has got is that they’re going to ban smoking at the end of this year like Ireland and New York, where it’s banned from all restaurants and bars. How will that affect him? It will affect him big time when he’s standing outside the Oxford Bar. I can’t see him giving up, though.

Just to talk a little bit about music, you’re going to get back to performing in “Jackie Leven Said.”

I like putting music in the books for all kinds of reasons but one of the nice spin-offs is that musicians get back to you. The drummer from Hawkwind wrote to say how much they liked my writing about them in the books. Two members from REM invited me out to dinner because of a mention in the books. I mentioned this guy Jackie Leaven, who is a Scottish singer-songwriter I like, and in one of the books Rebus is listening to this guy late at night. Jackie turned out to be a huge fan of the books so we did a few gigs together and came up with a concept show, which is basically a 40-minute short story. It’s not a crime story. It’s about my background and about roots, family, music and manhood. These are the themes that Jackie deals with in his songs. I split this story into four 10-minute sections live on stage and he fills in the gaps with music that is relevant to the themes. We’ve recorded it and it’s coming out as a double CD in April and a DVD of a show from the Netherlands, probably to be called, A Meeting of Remarkable Men.

We’re doing a few more shows in April and May but that’s about it. It was really a one-off project written for a music festival in Glasgow but it’s really taken on a life of its own. Being a frustrated rock star -- and let’s face it, most male crime writers are -- it’s terrific to actually get up there with proper musicians and play some gigs versus standing up in a bookshop reading from a book.

Better than being the second-best punk band in Fife?

Well, there were only two punk bands in Fife when I was around. The nice thing about books is that they are wish fulfillment. So, my band the Dancing Pigs, which only existed for six months during which we were terrible, are a huge, U2, REM-style international success. In Black and Blue, I needed a huge band to be playing in Aberdeen for a Greenpeace gig. I thought, “Do I choose U2?” Hell, no. It’s the Dancing Pigs.

What are you listening to these days, besides the usual suspects?

People give me lots of ideas that I write down on scraps of paper. I just got Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins CDs today. I have buckets of stuff. I just got the four-CD box set of Rod Stewart and the Faces. The first thing I have to do when I get home is chuck my suitcase upstairs and hide all my stuff from my wife. It depresses her how much I bring home.

I heard that your wife Miranda doesn’t share your taste in music.

My thirteen-year-old son doesn’t even like my taste in music! He listens to Bach. He comes upstairs and says, “Dad, can you turn down Led Zeppelin? I’m trying to listen to Bach downstairs.” I don’t know where he gets it from. He’s no son of mine.

Without getting too deeply into the television series, I have to ask what it was like spending all night out with John Hannah (who portrayed Rebus on television)?

It was interesting. It was meant to be a half-hour conversation at a two-course bistro in the middle of Edinburgh. We met at 7 PM and I got in at 5 AM because we started hitting the pubs. We went to the Oxford Bar, which I think was the only pub where John wasn’t recognized. By the end of the night, we had this kind of conga line of fans following us down the street from bar to bar. We ended up back at his hotel’s bar with about thirty hangers-on and had no idea who they were. When I left at 4 AM to walk home, he was in character. We talked about the character and I think he did a good job of it. I just didn’t want anything to do with the series. I’ve never watched it. They’re making some more this year and John is busy doing stuff in Hollywood but another actor named Ken Stott has taken over. He’s Edinburgh born and bred and played a lot of cops on television. He’s an interesting choice. A lot of fans have said they would like to see Ken Stott play Rebus and now they will get their chance.

You participated in a documentary on the nature of evil. Did you manage to find a definition?

It was a three-part series for British television. The first part asked if evil means the same things to different cultures. The second program asked where it comes from, nature or nurture? The third part asked what we do about it. It was an interesting experience because I got to go places that fiction writers don’t get to go. As a writer, I couldn’t go to death row in Texas but doing a documentary for the BBC, they let me go there and interview inmates. I got to go to the Vatican and be exorcised by a priest who does 12 exorcisms a day, six days a week. We talked to Holocaust survivors, psychologists. We talked to convicted murderers and the families of their victims.

What conclusions did I come to? It ain’t cut and dried. It’s much easier for me to point out an evil action to you than it is to point to a person and say they are irredeemably evil. I think there has to be room for atonement and for people to change and evolve. That’s why I’m against the death penalty in general. Having said that, there was one person in particular named Ian Brady, who was known in Britain as the Moors Murderer. He used to torture and kill children and tape record it all. That guy, since he went into a secure psychiatric hospital, has been trying to persuade people on the outside that serial killers are good and that they are the epitome of what we aspire to as humans, that they are hunter-gatherers in some way and we should look up to them. That’s ugly to me and that is evil. I think that guy, because he has not and will not atone, is the embodiment of evil in a way that I haven’t seen in the murderers that I have met.

Rebus runs up against a lot of serial killers, even more that I would think you could have in a country the size of Scotland.

He’s come up against a couple in Black & Blue and Knots & Crosses. In Scotland, for a country of five million people, we have had more than our fair share such as the Bible John case. Ian Brady had Scottish roots. There was another Scot in London more recently who was killing young gay men and keeping them around for company. We’ve exported our serial killers overseas as well. There was one in Australia who was deported after serving a life sentence.

There are the other crimes as well. We had the Lockerbie disaster, of course. The Dunblaine shootings where a man walked into a kindergarten and shot dead 17 children. We’ve had our share and I think the books to that extent maintain their realism.

Your son’s condition helped you evolve as a writer. Are there any organizations I can mention so we can help back? (Rankin’s son has Angelman Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. Both Ian and his wife Miranda, who does work on behalf of the Special Needs Information Point at Snipinfo.org, are enthusiastic in their efforts for related charities).

Mostly we deal with Capability Scotland (Capability-scotland.org.uk). I don’t keep my son a secret and I don’t think people should. He’s part of the reason I’m successful. The books got good because I was angry and frustrated. I’m looking forward to getting home.

For more information on Ian Rankin, visit his official website at Ianrankin.net.