For the past couple of decades we've gone out of our way to read everything we could find written by Ian Rankin, whether under his own name or as Jack Harvey. And over that time we've grown a little older and perhaps a little wiser in the company, in particular, of the author's most frequently deployed protagonist, Detective Inspector John Rebus. We should perhaps declare an interest. One of the team here once, a long time ago, took Ian Rankin and his wife to see a cricket match at Headingley in Leeds. But though the one-time acquaintance of the author was why we started looking out for his books, the reason why we've kept on reading them, and have increasingly looked forward with such keen anticipation to new ones, was very simple. They are great stories with great characters and, in most cases, a fascinating setting drawing on the seamier side of what we regard as the best city on earth, Edinburgh.
So it was with some regret that we heard that Ian Rankin was taking a temporary break from his annual cycle of novel writing. And it was with more than a little surprise that we more recently became aware of the publication of "The Beat Goes On: The Complete Rebus Short Stories". The author's introduction notes that some of the stories have been published before, twelve in one collection and seven in a second, plus a novella. Another six of the stories have only ever been previously published in magazines, while two are written for this collection, and the 29th was written to be read aloud at a charity night in a brewery. The concluding chapter, "Rankin on Rebus" is the author's account of the origins of the Rebus series of books, and should be considered compulsory reading for the growing army of Rebus enthusiasts.
But so should the rest of the book. There is something about short stories. Goods ones, and these are very good ones, have to be distilled down like fine Scotch whisky to remove everything that is not strictly necessary to ensuring the pleasure of the reader. The result in this case is a series of beautifully formed gems, most of which are easily short enough to consume at a single sitting and appreciate as a whole. Taken together the 29 short stories are superbly entertaining, and in may ways represent the most enjoyment we've ever had from a Rebus book, and that is high praise indeed. Avid fans of Rankin and Rebus might well find they have read some of the stories before: but that certainly didn't blunt our enjoyment, and there is a sense in which having all these stories under one roof ensures they will be much more accessible as a result. And if you have never read any of Ian Rankin's Rebus novels, then you really could do far worse than starting with "The Beat Goes On". Just be aware that, if you do, you will suddenly find yourself with a very long reading list as you try to catch up with what you've been missing for all this time.