Inspector Rebus

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The Inspector Rebus books are a series of detective novels by the Scottish author Ian Rankin. The novels, centred on Detective Inspector John Rebus, are mostly based in and around Edinburgh.

Content and style[edit]

The books are written in third person limited omniscient mode, focusing on Rebus, with the point of view sometimes shifting to colleagues, petty criminals or suspects. The stories belong to the genre of police procedural detective fiction, with a hardboiled aspect that has led to them being dubbed 'Tartan Noir'.

All the novels involve murders, suspicious deaths or disappearances, with Rebus taking on the task of solving the mystery. The resulting investigation (or investigations) depict a stark, uncompromising picture of Scotland, particularly Edinburgh, characterised by corruption, poverty, and organised crime. Along the way, Rebus has to struggle with internal police politics, a struggle exacerbated by his tendency to bend the rules and ignore his superiors. He also has to deal with his own personal issues, which are often directly or indirectly related to the current investigation, risking further friction with his colleagues.

Rankin has won critical praise for his elaborate and inventive plots. In particular, the later books have multiple plotlines encompassing dozens of distinctive characters and locations. These span a broad spectrum of Scotland, including council estates, tenements, business districts, nightclubs, prisons, dying mining towns, secluded villages and desolate hillsides, as well as the better-known pubs and streets of Edinburgh. Some of these locations are fictional, although they may be based on real places. For example, the Pilmuir estate is a conflation of the two real Edinburgh locations Pilton and Muirhouse. Other locations, such as the Oxford Bar, Arden Street, and St Leonards police station, are real. Frequent references to real places or local politics firmly ground the Rebus series in the real world.

Another strong feature of the series is the continual linking between the books. This may be in reference to the background, previous cases, and storylines, or through the characters Rebus encounters, for example, the notorious Edinburgh crime lord 'Big Ger' Cafferty. Rankin does this in such a way that reading them in order, prior knowledge of the Rebus 'history' is not required. Everything is explained in enough detail in order not to confuse new readers but does not become repetitive for extensive readers of the series.

Rebus is an old-fashioned man who bottles things up and lets them affect his personal life. Apart from his daughter Sammy (Samantha Rebus), he has five women in his life: Rhona, his separated wife; Patience Aitken, his ex-girlfriend; Gill Templer, his immediate boss and sometime girlfriend; Jean Burchill, lady friend and friend of Gill Templer, who first appears in The Falls; and, in the later books, particularly when Rebus is retired, his girlfriend is Deborah Quant, a pathologist.

The series also focuses on the character of Rebus's protege, DS Siobhan Clarke. Clarke first appears in The Black Book, and continues to have a larger role as the series goes on.

Music plays a large part in the Rebus novels. In the first several novels, Rebus is a jazz enthusiast, listening to the likes of Miles Davis. However, by the publication of the 1997 Gold Dagger Award-winning Black and Blue, Rebus's musical taste has shifted towards classic and progressive rock. Musical groups and tracks are often directly mentioned in Rankin’s novels, whether playing on Rebus’s Hi-Fi, or in his car or passed between characters on mix tapes or borrowed albums. Music also weaves throughout the narrative, setting the scene, or making a pun - such as ‘Born to Be Wild’ by Steppenwolf in Tooth and Nail, or a scene in The Hanging Garden where ‘Psycho Killer’ by the Talking Heads plays in Rebus’s car. Several bands appear in Rankin’s works multiple times, such The Rolling Stones, Joy Division, Wishbone Ash, Rory Gallagher, The Cure, The Velvet Underground, and many more.

Publishing history[edit]

The Inspector Rebus series is commercially successful in the United Kingdom, accounting for an estimated 10% of all crime book sales in the UK as of 2015.[1] The books routinely sell half a million copies each,[2] and have been translated into 36 languages.[3] As of 2015 they are published in the UK by the Orion Publishing Group.[4] The seventeenth was thought to be the last as Rebus turned sixty, the age of retirement for CID officers,[5] and in 2009 Rankin produced a fresh protagonist in the form of Inspector Malcolm Fox of the police's Complaints and Conduct Department. In this book (The Complaints) and its 2011 sequel (The Impossible Dead) Rebus and his colleague (Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke) did not appear. However at the Hay Festival in June 2012 Rankin announced a further book, entitled Standing in Another Man's Grave, subsequently released in November 2012.[6] This was followed by further novels in which Rebus (now a civilian), Clarke (now promoted Detective Inspector) and Fox all served as protagonists.


  1. Knots and Crosses (1987)
  2. Hide and Seek (1991)
  3. Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992)
  4. Strip Jack (1992)
  5. The Black Book (1993)
  6. Mortal Causes (1994)
  7. Let It Bleed (1996)
  8. Black and Blue (1997)
  9. The Hanging Garden (1998)
  10. Dead Souls (1999)
  11. Set in Darkness (2000)
  12. The Falls (2001)
  13. Resurrection Men (2002)
  14. A Question of Blood (2003)
  15. Fleshmarket Close (published in the US as Fleshmarket Alley) (2004)
  16. The Naming of the Dead (2006)
  17. Exit Music (2007)
  18. Standing in Another Man's Grave (2012)
  19. Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013)
  20. The Beat Goes On: The Complete Rebus Short Stories (2014)
  21. Even Dogs in the Wild (2015)
  22. Rather Be the Devil (2016)
  23. In a House of Lies (2018)
  24. A Song for the Dark Times (2020)
  25. A Heart full of Headstones (2022)

Short stories[edit]

The Beat Goes On (2014)[a]

Prologue (Preface)
  • Dead and Buried
  • Playback
  • The Dean Curse
  • Being Frank
  • Concrete Evidence
  • Seeing Things
  • A Good Hanging
  • Tit for Tat
  • Not Provan
  • Sunday
  • Auld Lang Syne
  • The Gentlemen’s Club
  • Monstrous Trumpet
  • My Shopping Day
  • Talk Show
  • Trip Trap
  • Castle Dangerous
  • In the Frame
  • Facing the Music
  • Window of Opportunity
  • Death is Not the End (novella)
  • No Sanity Clause
  • Tell Me Who to Kill
  • Saint Nicked
  • Atonement
  • Not Just Another Saturday
  • Penalty Claus
  • The Passenger
  • A Three-Pint Problem
  • The Very Last Drop
  • Cinders
Rankin on Rebus


  • Rebus - The Early Years [Knots and Crosses, Hide and Seek, Tooth and Nail] (1990)
  • Rebus - The St. Leonards' Years [Strip Jack, The Black Book, Mortal Causes] (2001)
  • Rebus - The Lost Years [Let it Bleed, Black and Blue, The Hanging Garden] (1998)
  • Rebus - Capital Crimes [Dead Souls, Set in Darkness, The Falls] (2004)
  • Rebus - Three Great Novels [Resurrection Men, A Question of Blood, Fleshmarket Close] (2008)
  • The Complete Short Stories [A Good Hanging and Other Stories, Beggars Banquet, Atonement] (2005)


  • Rankin, Ian (2005). Rebus's Scotland: A Personal Journey. London: Orion. ISBN 978-0-75285-245-4. - non-fiction book discussing the background to the Rebus novels.
  • Rankin, Ian (1996). Hullah, Paul; Muroya, Yozo (eds.). Playback and Talk Show : New Edinburgh Crimes. Tokyo: Kenkyūsha. ISBN 4327421324. Archived from the original on 26 March 2009.


All of the Rebus novels are available as audiobooks, some in several versions: narrated by different people or in abridged and unabridged form. Narrators include:

Three of the novels have won Spoken Word Awards: Strip Jack (Gold), A Question of Blood and Resurrection Men (Silver).

An innovative new design, the illustrated audiobook was created for Rebus's Scotland (the CD box contains a 32-page booklet containing photographs from the book).


  1. Knots and Crosses (1987)
  2. Hide and Seek (1991)
  3. Playback
  4. Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992)
  5. The Dean Curse
  6. Being Frank
  7. Concrete Evidence
  8. Seeing Things
  9. A Good Hanging
  10. Tit for Tat
  11. Not Provan
  12. Sunday
  13. Auld Lang Syne
  14. The Gentlemen's Club
  15. Monstrous Trumpet
  16. My Shopping Day
  17. Strip Jack (1992)
  18. Talk Show
  19. Trip Trap
  20. The Black Book (1993)
  21. Castle Dangerous
  22. Mortal Causes (1994)
  23. In the Frame
  24. Facing the Music
  25. Let It Bleed (1996)
  26. Black and Blue (1997)
  27. The Hanging Garden (1998)
  28. Window of Opportunity
  29. Death is Not the End
  30. Dead Souls (1999)
  31. No Sanity Clause
  32. Set in Darkness (2000)
  33. Tell Me Who to Kill
  34. The Falls (2001)
  35. Resurrection Men (2002)
  36. A Question of Blood (2003)
  37. Saint Nicked
  38. Fleshmarket Close (published in the US as Fleshmarket Alley) (2004)
  39. Atonement
  40. Not Just Another Saturday
  41. Penalty Claus
  42. The Passenger
  43. A Three-Pint Problem
  44. The Naming of the Dead (2006)
  45. Exit Music (2007)
  46. The Very Last Drop
  47. Standing in Another Man's Grave (2012)
  48. Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013)
  49. Cinders
  50. Even Dogs in the Wild (2015)
  51. Rather Be the Devil (2016)
  52. In a House of Lies (2018)
  53. A Song for the Dark Times (2020)

The Beat Goes On (2014) has all the short stories in chronological order.

Other adaptations[edit]


Thirteen of the novels were dramatised for television between 2000 and 2007 in four series of Rebus. John Hannah played Inspector Rebus in the first series, before being replaced by Ken Stott for the next three. Series four of the programme also included an original episode, which unlike the other thirteen episodes aired, was not based on any of the Rankin novels. It was entitled "The First Stone".


Alexander Morton voiced John Rebus in a 1999 BBC Radio 4 dramatization of Let it Bleed. Ron Donachie starred as Rebus in Radio 4's dramatizations of The Falls (2003), Resurrection Men (2004), Black and Blue (2008), Strip Jack (2010), The Black Book (2012), Set in Darkness (2014), A Question of Blood (2016) and Fleshmarket Close (2017), having previously played Rebus's Chief Constable in the TV series. Readings of the short story "Facing the Music" from Beggars Banquet, read by James MacPherson, and of the novella Death Is Not the End, performed by Douglas Henshall, have also been broadcast by BBC Radio.


A brand new story written for the stage by Ian Rankin and adapted by playwright Rona Munro entitled Rebus: Long Shadows had its premiere at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre on 20 September 2018 before touring the UK. The production was directed by Roxana Silbert and starred Charles Lawson as Rebus.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The 2015 paperback edition of "The Beat Goes On" includes two stories not in the 2014 hardback edition; My Shopping Day and Cinders.


  1. ^ "Ian Rankin returns to Rebus after year-long sabbatical". BBC News. 15 March 2015. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  2. ^ Post, The Sunday. "Rebus will return to solve one more case, author Ian Rankin reveals". The Sunday Post. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  3. ^ "Ian Rankin presents Library with his archive - National Library of Scotland". Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  4. ^ "Ian Rankin Returns with the 20th Rebus". Orion Publishing Group. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  5. ^ Quinn, Thomas (17 September 2006). "Rankin goes home to plot Rebus's end". The Observer. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  6. ^ "Rebus to make return appearance in new Ian Rankin novel". BBC News. 5 June 2012. Retrieved 9 December 2019.

External links[edit]