ian rankin interviewed by alison gordon at the Brigantine Room (York Quay Centre, 235 Queen's Quay West), Wedneday (October 24) at 8 pm; andreading with andrea goldsmith and allen kurzweil at Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queen's Quay West), Thursday (October 25) at 8 pm. $18. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNN
scottish mystery writer ian Rankin claims that Edinburgh's high-priced real estate kick-started his best-selling Inspector Rebus series."When I went to university, my parents' home was only 50 kilometres from the campus, so the student accommodation service refused to help me find affordable housing," he says over the phone from the spacious, centrally located flat he was able to buy after his critically acclaimed Black And Blue hit best-sellers lists in 97.
"So a friend and I found a room in a motel near a really gruesome housing scheme. The motel was next to a pub called the University Arms, and when I asked the landlord why -- it wasn't anywhere near campus -- he said, "If any students ever came in, we'd rip their arms off.'"Rankin, who wrote his first three novels while he was supposed to be doing a PhD thesis, found rich material in this hidden Edinburgh. When he published his first Rebus book, in 87, the Scottish capital also ranked as Europe's AIDS capital, but its public face was still picture-postcard pretty.He racked up enough critical acclaim and awards that in 1990 he quit his day job, as an editor at London monthly Hi Fi Review, but life was lean until 97.
"My favourite book is still Black And Blue, because that's where it really took off for me," Rankin says with candour. "I think the whole Trainspotting thing (the movie adaptation of Irvine Welsh's best-seller about Edinburgh squatters and junkies) helped."
Rankin's hero, insubordinate and disillusioned alcoholic detective inspector John Rebus, isn't anything new in terms of the hard-boiled police procedural genre. But the quality of Rankin's prose, the emotional complexity of his characters and, above all, the books' realism (the political and urban upheaval Edinburgh is experiencing as part of the recent introduction of the Scottish parliament forms a narrative thread throughout the series) make the Rebus books stand out.
While Rankin has never worked as a cop, he has first-hand experience as a murder suspect.
"I was researching Knots And Crosses, and went into the police station asking questions that made them think I was a killer having fun with them."
Now that he's a hit, the early Rebus books have been reissued, along with the trio of thrillers Rankin wrote as Jack Harvey, in a misguided attempt to make a quick buck.
"I didn't realize how much more research a thriller takes than a mystery," he laughs. "I felt I had to try, though, since my publisher only wanted one Rebus a year, and my wife and I were living in a farmhouse in France without any other income."
Now that Rankin has found an eager audience, the earlier titles are also selling well, and with an ITV television series starring John Hannah introducing Rebus to global audiences (TVO is airing it as part of Mystery!), any more time Rankin spends slumming will be a matter of creative luxury.
the falls by Ian Rankin (Orion), 399 pages, $24.95 paper. Rating: NNNN