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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, 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 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, or a 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 four 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. His protege is DS Siobhan Clarke, with whom he does not have a romantic relationship.
While Rebus is old fashioned in his choices and opinions, he is not a bigot. This comes to the fore clearly in Fleshmarket Close.[clarification needed] In this novel, Rebus also reveals that his grandfather came from Poland.
Rebus is a fan of 1960s popular music. He often connects situations with an apt song from the 1960s.
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. The books now[when?] routinely sell half a million copies within the first three months of printing and have been translated into 26 languages. As of 2015 they are published in the UK by the Orion Publishing Group. The seventeenth was thought to be the last as Rebus turned sixty, the age of retirement for CID officers, but at the Hay Festival in June 2012 Rankin announced a further book, entitled Standing in Another Man's Grave, subsequently released in November 2012. Saints of the Shadow Bible was published in 2013.
- Knots and Crosses (1987)
- Hide and Seek (1991)
- Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992)
- Strip Jack (1992)
- The Black Book (1993)
- Mortal Causes (1994)
- Let It Bleed (1996)
- Black and Blue (1997)
- The Hanging Garden (1998)
- Dead Souls (1999)
- Set in Darkness (2000)
- The Falls (2001)
- Resurrection Men (2002)
- A Question of Blood (2003)
- Fleshmarket Close (published in the US as Fleshmarket Alley) (2004)
- The Naming of the Dead (2006)
- Exit Music (2007)
- Standing in Another Man's Grave (2012)
- Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013)
- Even Dogs in the Wild (2015)
- 'A Good Hanging' and Other Stories (1992) - short stories
- "Playback" (1990) - first published in Winter's Crimes 22
- "The Dean Curse"
- "Being Frank"
- "Concrete Evidence"
- "Seeing Things"
- "A Good Hanging"
- "Tit for Tat"
- "Not Provan"
- "Auld Lang Syne"
- "The Gentleman's Club"
- "Monstrous Trumpet"
- Death Is Not the End (1998) - novella
- Beggars Banquet (2002) - short stories (includes seven Rebus stories and Death Is Not the End)
- "Trip Trap" (1992) - first published in 1st Culprit
- "Facing the Music" (1994) - first published in Midwinter Mysteries 4
- "Talk Show" (1991) - first published in Winter's Crimes 23
- "Castle Dangerous" (1993) - first published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Oct. 1993
- "In the Frame" (1992) - first published in Winter's Crimes 24
- "Window of Opportunity" (1995) - first published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Dec. 1995
- "No Sanity Clause" (2000) - first published in the Daily Telegraph, Dec. 2000
- "Tell Me Who To Kill" (2003) - short story, first published in Mysterious Pleasures, a collection celebrating fifty years of the Crime Writers' Association
- "Saint Nicked" (2004) Published In The Best British Mysteries Volume 1
- "Atonement" (2005) - short story, first published in The Complete Short Stories
- Rebus - The Early Years [Knots and Crosses, Hide and Seek, Tooth and Nail]
- Rebus - The St. Leonards' Years [Strip Jack, The Black Book, Mortal Causes]
- Rebus - The Lost Years [Let it Bleed, Black and Blue, The Hanging Garden]
- Rebus - Capital Crimes [Dead Souls, Set in Darkness, The Falls]
- Rebus - Three Great Novels [Resurrection Men, A Question of Blood, Fleshmarket Close] (June 2008)
- The Complete Short Stories ['A Good Hanging' and Other Stories, Beggars Banquet, Atonement]
- Rebus's Scotland - A Personal Journey.
- New Edinburgh Crimes by Ian Rankin - containing the short stories "Playback" and "Talk Show", published in Japan (1996)
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:
- James MacPherson
- Jamie Glover
- Bill Paterson (The Black Book, Hide and Seek)
- Samuel Gillies (Strip Jack, Set in Darkness, Tooth and Nail, Let It Bleed, The Falls, Beggar's Banquet)
- Roger Allam
- Joe Dunlop (Dead Souls, Resurrection Men)
- James Frain
- David Rintoul (Mortal Causes)
- Tom Cotcher (A Question of Blood, Fleshmarket Close, The Naming of the Dead)
- Michael Page (A Question of Blood, Fleshmarket Alley (Close))
- Ewan Stewart (Knots and Crosses, Hide and Seek, unabridged versions)
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).
Television and radio adaptations
For main article, see Rebus (TV series)
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 program 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".
Ron Donachie starred as Rebus in BBC 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) and A Question of Blood (2016), having previously played Rebus's Chief Constable in the TV series.
- Detective Inspector John Rebus
- List of characters from the Inspector Rebus series
- Lothian and Borders Police
- Areas of Edinburgh
- "Ian Rankin returns to Rebus after year-long sabbatical". BBC News.
- "Rebus takes a potshot at Edinburgh’s trams in new Rankin novel". deadlinenews.co.uk.
- "Ian Rankin Returns with the 20th Rebus". Orion Publishing Group.
- "Rankin goes home to plot Rebus's end". the Guardian.
- Rebus to make return appearance in new Ian Rankin novel BBC News