Edinburgh is home to author Ian Rankin and to his best known creation, Inspector John Rebus. Rebus is the focus of a series of over 20 detective novels that have sold millions of copies worldwide in many languages. But the city is not just the backdrop to the Rebus novels, it is also a central character in most of them. Through Rebus many people have come to know Edinburgh less as the beautiful capital of a reborn nation than as a starkly monochrome city of crime, sleaze and overstressed police.
You can experience the Edinburgh of Rankin & Rebus from the gripping pages of the novels, and find out more from the official fan site, linked from this page. But a growing number of people from all corners of the globe are travelling to Edinburgh to see the actual locations from the books for themselves: the pubs, the public buildings, the police station where Rebus works and even the mortuary where autopsies on victims are held.
The best way to follow in the footsteps of Edinburgh's most celebrated detective is by taking one of the Rebus guided walks operated by Rebustours (also linked from this page). These two-hour walking tours introduce you to the world of Rebus and show you a variety of historic and Rebus-related locations not normally part of the conventional tourist trail.
Judging by worldwide sales and by the thousands of fans who flock to Ian Rankin's book-signings and appearances at events across the world, his fan base extends to millions of readers, many of whom have not yet visited Edinburgh but who are nonetheless fascinated by his depiction of John Rebus, the grumpy, dishevelled, divorced and dysfunctional Edinburgh detective. The character's very name is a giveaway: a rebus is the Latin for a picture puzzle, a mystery that has to be unlocked…
The first Inspector Rebus book was Knots and Crosses, published in 1987, and Ian Rankin admits he did not set out to write a series, still less a definitive crime novel. He saw it as a 20th-century reworking of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Stevenson fully recognized the divisions within the Edinburgh of his time. For him it was forever a place of contrasts: rich and poor, good and evil, daytime virtues and nightly lusts, the slums of the Old Town overlooking the surface splendours of the Georgian New Town.
Ian Rankin, like Stevenson a graduate of Edinburgh University, acknowledges not just Stevenson as an influence but also other classic Scottish writers. James Hogg's eerie work Notes and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) is regarded as one of the first psychological thrillers, Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes is based on his own teacher, the forensic expert Dr Joseph Bell, who was a formative influence on Doyle as a medical student at the University. Muriel Spark's novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) reveals the divisions within Edinburgh society as seen through the eyes of girls at a private school in the 1930s.
The Rebus books are published in the UK by Orion and by other publishers overseas. They are also available on audio tape and CD. Each novel is a complete story in its own right so you can jump into the series at any stage. But as Rebus himself matures as a character, many prefer to read the books in chronological order. Rankin has also published a number of collections of short stories, some of which also feature John Rebus, along with other books penned under the name Jack Harvey.
Part of the great fascination of the Rebus series is the way Ian Rankin draws on real events or places in weaving his plots. The Falls revolves around some eerie wooden dolls on display in the Museum of Scotland, and links them to legends surrounding Rosslyn Chapel. Set in Darkness involves the building of the Scottish Parliament building. And a more recent novel A Question of Blood mixes a number of real events, including a military helicopter crash similar to a real tragedy on the Mull of Kintyre.
And perhaps the most real of all the many settings in the books is John Rebus's favourite pub, the Oxford Bar. This can be found in a back street in Edinburgh's New Town: and just happens also to be Ian Rankin's favourite pub...