“Well, Scottish society is still quite white. So it’s not something that anyone has ever complained about. My crime scene officer Haj Atwal is Asian, but he’s based on a real Edinburgh businessman who paid to be on my books. I have a chat with him from time to time to check that he is still comfortable with me using it. But as a novelist, you write what you need to write.
Rankin’s work is – slightly reductive – often bracketed in the ‘black tartan’ genre with other Scots such as William McIlvanney and Val McDermid. Certainly the stark realism of Rebus’s novels, with their often comfortless investigations into Scotland’s darker social history, feels a world away from the charming villages and amateur sleuths of the recent cozy crime boom, popularized by the Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club series.
“Comfortable crime fuels people’s general despair at the state of the world. It allows them to retreat into a meaningful world where ordinary people, rather than cops, can restore peace and order like a Shakespearean comedy,” he says. “But the restoration makes detective fiction schematic. In my books, just because a crime has been solved doesn’t mean all crimes are solved. Rebus has always known that no matter how many people he puts in jail, there are more waiting around the corner.
He even fears for the future of criminal proceedings. “A lot of people who write them start thinking – am I writing about good guys? You look at what’s happened in America with the murder of George Floyd and here with Sarah Everard and you think: can you trust these people to defend us? His latest Rebus novel, A Heart Full of Headstones, tackles this idea head on, looking deeply at the corruption within the old DI force. very aware. We cannot be considered public relations for police stations in the UK.”
Questions remain as to whether there will be another Rebus novel beyond the planned sequel, the release date of which has yet to be confirmed. All Rankin will say is that he’s taking the day off next year. He says he is exhausted: he wrote “four times louder” during the pandemic in part to escape confinement.
But one wonders how easy it is for Rankin to exist without Rebus. “He saved me a fortune in psychoanalyst fees. Anything that bothers me, I pass it on to him and see how he handles it. As a detective novelist, you play god over matters of life and death, so when the world is chaotic there’s a certain comfort in being able to control the universe in ways that you can’t in the world real. And the world currently looks like a very complicated place.
Rebus was commissioned exclusively for Viaplay. Information: viaplay.com