Recently at the Spring Garden Road Branch, we had a very popular book display called “Missing Inspector Rebus?”
Avid mystery readers will know immediately that I’m referring to Ian Rankin’s hugely popular Scottish series featuring John Rebus, Edinburgh police detective. When you ask fans of the blockbuster series what made it a favourite, you will often hear mention of the main character himself – a brooding law enforcement official who keenly felt the wrongs suffered by the victims of the crimes he investigates, and who himself shoulders his own burdens. Others will mention the well developed sense of place – the setting and the culture of Scotland. While still others point out that these are simply (or not-so-simply, I guess), well plotted, well told mysteries.
Whatever the reason a particular reader loved the Rebus series, it’s evident that he has a strong hold on his fans. The series wrapped in 2007 with Exit Music, the 17th title. With three years between us and the closing installment, I would thought that maybe Rebus was already forgotten, but based on the keen response to our display, I’d say otherwise.
If you’re also missing Inspector Rebus you might want to check out one of these books and series:
Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series has been a go-to destination for Rebus fan’s for a while. The Swedish setting is quite different, but like Rankin’s novels, the sense of place is strong in the stories. Where these books have even more in common, however, is in the main characters. Like Rebus, Wallander is a dedicated cop with a complicated personal life never far in the background. Also like the Rebus series, the series has become hugely popular – start with the first in the series Faceless Killers.
Scotland is cold and wet, Sweden is dark and snowy – but it is possible to set noir fiction in sunny climes. Garry Disher’s Inspector Challis mysteries are set in the Mornington Penisula, an area that is Melbourne Australia’s answer to cottage country. Despite the beautiful setting, crime manages to find its way into the landscape, beginning with a serial murderer in the first book in the series, The Dragon Man. Challis is a likeable detective, smart and dedicated, but his past has some dark shadows that he has to battle.
It’s not just the troubled detective that makes Rebus appealing – the setting in Scotland is a big part of the appeal for some readers. In a Wikipedia article, American crime novelist James Ellroy is credited as creating the term Tartan Noir, calling Ian Rankin the king of it in a book jacket quote.
If the idea of Tartan Noir appeals to you, then you may want to investigate these other Scottish authors: Denise Mina, who writes dark, often very violent, crime novels primarily set in Glasgow; Stuart MacBride, whose detective Logan McRae investigates crime in Northern Aberdeen, and William McIlvanney, whose 1977 novel Laidlaw (also set in Glasgow) is an earlier glimpse into the world of Scottish crime writing.
Finally, if it’s less setting or character and more the quality of the mystery that interests you with Rebus, you might want to investigate Boris Akunin’s Erast Fandorin books : an historical series is set in Russia. When describing the series, reviewers will reference authors as wide ranging as Agatha Christie and Leo Tolstoy. Of the first volume in the series – The Winter Queen – Library Journal said it “is atmospheric, smartly plotted, and driven by a host of finely etched characters.“
If you don’t know Rebus, start at the beginning with Knots and Crosses. If you can’t quite give up on Ian Rankin even though the Rebus casebook is closed, try some of his standalone (non-Rebus) titles like The Complaints or Doors Open.