I first read most of Ian Rankin’s Rebus series when I was a teenager, mainly because Black And Blue is (was? This was nearly twenty years ago) a central text for Higher English, and so every high school kid in Scotland had to read it. I kept up with the books for a while, but never got round to reading the later ones, so I decided recently to re-read the lot from the start, aided by my Kindle.
Knots And Crosses is interesting if you’re familiar with the series, because it’s still kind of finding its feet. It was written (and hence set) in 1985, quite a bit earlier than the bulk of the books, and so the main character, John Rebus, is not quite yet the grizzled, cynical maverick that he will later become. There’s quite a lot of interesting stuff going on with his relationships with his brother and daughter at this point, and a few characters are introduced who will become very important later in the series, but by and large it can feel like a bit of a strange prequel with hindsight.
The plot zips along nicely, though, and the fact that it’s a bit more straightforward than later stories will be is actually quite a refreshing way to start reading the series again.
Of course, as an Edinburgh native, the setting is my favourite thing about the books, and here as ever the city is depicted beautifully. Something that’s always frustrated me since I started university in my hometown is the way that some people can live in Edinburgh for years and still never see beyond the picturesque, touristy, student-friendly surface. Ian Rankin’s writing, by virtue of its subject matter, evokes every aspect of the city, from its architectural beauty to its dark underbelly, from Morningside to Pilton. I know every street Rebus walks down, if not quite every pub in which he drinks (some of them have not survived the intervening thirty-three years!), and for me that really gives the stories life.
I have the next few entries on my reading list, so I’m sure I’ll get round to them soon!