It must be an odd feeling, finishing a novel you consider to be literary fiction, only to discover it hidden away in the crime section of your local bookstore. But this is exactly what happened to Scottish writer Ian Rankin. "I was a little bit stunned by that," he says in an interview with Books of My Life, a new podcast from The National. "So I started to read crime fiction."
Twenty-two Inspector Rebus novels later and it is fair to say that Rankin has very much embraced being a writer of crime fiction. “I like the fact that you can explore a culture from top to bottom by means of a detective,” he says.
The Rebus novels are set in Edinburgh, not far from Fife, where Rankin grew up. Rankin likes to pick away at the sores on the criminal underbelly of society and his novels are full of darkness and depravity. But they are also laced with humour, often derived from Rebus’s bafflement at how quickly the world is moving on around him.
It is this reluctance to change with the times that endears him to so many readers – as well as to his creator. “I’m probably fonder of him than he would be of me” says Rankin. “He’d see me as a wishy-washy liberal. He’s more of an Old Testament character, who sees the world in absolutes of good and evil. My conversation with him in the books is to persuade him that there are shades of grey between those absolutes. Each book to me feels like a brand new adventure.”
One of the joys of recording Books of My Life was having the opportunity to ask people for their literary recommendations. Rankin was particularly generous, offering a great list of crime authors to seek out, including Anita Nair and Adrian McKinty. That said, they'll do well to tear you away from Rebus.
Rankin has a new novel out this month – well, an old novel actually but one that is being republished for the first time since 1990 – so now is the perfect moment to enjoy this episode of Books of My Life in the company of one of the greatest crime writers of all time.
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