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Written by Calum MacLeod




There will be one detective it will be hard to escape in 2007.

From a brand new edition of his first recorded case in March to the publication of his final case in October, there will be television shows, exhibitions, new reading guides to the backlist and even, appropriately, special edition beer and whisky.

The detective is of course Inspector John Rebus of Lothian and Borders CID.

Rebus has reached retiral age and, despite the attempts of Scottish Parliament MP Helen Eadie to extend the serving age of police officers to guarantee more books, it is time to hang up his handcuffs.

2007 marks the 20th anniversary of the first Rebus novel, "Knots and Crosses", and author Ian Rankin has made long-standing promise to himself to finish the series in its 20th year.

"I think I’m just going to treat it as another book. I don’t think I’m going to tie up loose ends like his relationship with Big Ger Cafferty (the Edinburgh gangster who is Rebus’s long-standing nemesis)," Ian revealed.

As for Rebus, Ian suspects at the end of the book he will just walk away without a "Reichenbach Falls moment" — as when fellow Scottish writer Arthur Conan Doyle killed off his detective, if only temporarily as it turned out.

Before they discover whether Rebus retires from the scene gracefully and otherwise, and whether the incorrigible Fifer manages to cope with the ban on smoking now in force in Scottish pubs - even his beloved Oxford Bar, there is one penultimate Rebus book to enjoy and it is a good one.

Scottish novelist and critic Alan Massie, Ian's former tutor at Edinburgh University, has even gone as far as to suggest it is his best book yet and certainly events in Scotland's capital last year presented Rankin with an irresistible backdrop to the 16th Rebus novel, "The Naming of the Dead."

In the new novel Rebus, the perennial outsider, is just about the only senior police officer in Edinburgh not involved with the G8 summit at Gleneagles which brought anti-poverty and anti-war protesters to Edinburgh in their hundreds of thousands, so he is the only one free to investigate the suspicious death of a politician which coincides with clues a serial killer may be on the loose.

"I knew I was going to have to write about G8 and at the back of my mind there was this thought that maybe I would get Rebus to meet George Bush," Ian said.

Not only does Rebus meet George W., in Ian's novel it is Rebus who is the unnamed policeman who in famously causes the US president to crash his mountain bike while cycling around Gleneagles and Ian cheerfully confirms an earlier comment that he was writing a whole novel just to include that one incident.

"I really worked hard on that scene," he added. "I just read it again and I just thought it was hilarious — that’ll probably be one of the scenes I’ll choose when I do public readings."

There is a more serious side to the book’s politics than a bit of slapstick with the leader of the Western World and Ian suggests his books have taken on an increasingly political element of late, perhaps because Jack McConnell’s official residence, Bute House, is just along the road from the Oxford Bar, the real-life pub which is Rebus’s favourite watering hole.

"Rebus is very cynical about it, very cynical about G8 and about the ant-poverty marchers — though he watches Pink Floyd at the Live8 concert in London, obviously. Siobhan, his younger colleague, is more idealistic and she goes on the Make Poverty History march," Ian revealed.

"It was like being in a state of siege being in Edinburgh at that time. You couldn’t post a letter because all the letter boxes had been sealed up to prevent terrorists putting bombs in them, there were barricades everywhere and then Geldof said he wanted a million people here. Every day there was something else. I was lucky I was in town all week to see it all."

Research was easy. Ian and his family went to the Meadows, the focal point for the anti-poverty march around the city attended by anyone from respectable groups of church-goers to masked anarchists, and so too does Rebus.

"Every day there was something else," Ian added.

"You had Gordon Brown speaking at a gathering at the Church of Scotland Assembly Halls, Bono staying at the Balmoral Hotel...always something happening. I was lucky because I was in town all week to see it.

"There's a lot of real life people in the book just because so many of them were around at the time. I’ve done my timeline, things that happen on certain days, so I could match them to events in the book. Then on the seventh you had the London bombings, so I had to put them in as well."

Another thing Ian felt he had to put into the book was the Clootie Well, a spooky paganism survival where people leave strips of cloth or clothing behind in the hope of healing or a blessing

Ian came across the real well at Munlochy last year while on holiday in the Black Isle near Inverness.

"It was the creepiest thing," he said. "I’d never heard of the Clootie Well before. You go into the woods and there is this real atmosphere with all these strips of cloth tied round trees and water bubbling out of the ground. It has a real sense of something strange. It was too good to waste. It was the same when I went Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh, I just had to put it in a book."

Though the plot of the book necessitated a move from Ross-shire to the outskirts of the village of Auchterarder near Gleneagles, Ian does acknowledge the real life inspiration of his fictional Clootie Well at the end of the book, where he recommends it as worth a visit "if you like your tourist attractions on the skin-crawling side."

Fans may be relieved to hear that he has no plans to get rid of Rebus’s sidekick Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke, though less pleased to learn than his book a year schedule may be cut down to a book every two years with his first post-Rebus offering appearing in 2009 and the next in 2011.

Prior to "The Naming of the Dead", Ian took what was supposedly a year off, in that he had no Rebus novel to write. In practice it did not quite work out that way for the in demand author.

"The easiest time I have us when I'm writing a book. Then I can just tell people to go away," he said.

Alongside any future novels, Ian's writing career, which began as teenager in Fife writing song lyrics for an imaginary band and creating his own comic, is swinging full circle.

Famous for the musical reference in his books, Ian reveals that for his appearance on "Desert Island Discs" the BBC had to send someone up from London to help him cut down his shortlist from 38 to the eight records actually played on the show. He is now writing lyrics for Edinburgh band St Jude’s Infirmary and is following fellow Scottish crime writer Denise Mina in scripting DC Comics/Vertigo’s "Hellblazer" adult horror series about a London based magician and occult investigator and the basis of the film "Constantine" which starred Keanu Reeves with Tilda Swinton.

Ian has made no secret of his love of comics. Early thriller "The Watchman" was titled in part homage to Alan Moore's classic graphic novel "Watchmen" and Ian has followed Constantine's career since the Sting lookalike's first appearance back in the issues of Moore's "Swamp Thing."

"Denise Mina must have told them I like comics. I pushed an idea to them and they came back: 'Oh my God! This is really exciting!' but it was just a 10 sentence synopsis. I'll flesh it out to five or six issues and once we've done that we'll decide on a deal. But it won't be until after the next Rebus novel," Ian revealed.

As for doing a swap with his near neighbour J. K. Rowling, perhaps that is something that should be regarded with more caution.

"I made the mistake of joking to a journalist that I might write children's books," Ian revealed.

With J. K. Rowling commenting that she would like to try a crime novel, it seemed a straight exchange of genres could be arranged, though don't wait too anxiously for Rankin's appearance in the children's section.

More immediately are a number of screen projects, including a possible television drama and a documentary for the BBC on Robert Louis Stevenson and the writing of "Jekyll and Hyde", while BBC4 will screen an adaptation of his short story "The Acid Test", with Richard Wilson as Arthur Conan Doyle and Alastair Mackenzie from "Monarch of the Glen" as thriller writer Jack Harvey — a pen-name adopted by Ian for three thrillers in the early 1990s.

"I can’t tell you how good I felt when I saw they’d cast a young handsome actor as Jack Harvey," Ian added.

And of course Rebus continues in his on screen incarnation on ITV with Ken Stott’s portrayal more warmly received than John Hannah’s interpretation of a few years ago. Ian has yet to watch an episode all the way through, but gives the television series his seal of approval.

"Ken Stott’s really good in it and there are some great lines," he commented. "I wish I’d written them."

• "Naming the Dead" by Ian Rankin
is published by Orion £17.99








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