Monday , December 4 2023
"Villains appeal to me if they have a sense of personal morality at their core."

Interview with Ian Rankin, author of Bleeding Hearts

Scottish writer Ian Rankin may not be as well known to Americans as other great crime writers, such as Lawrence Block and Robert Parker, but he should be.

Rankin may be best known for his Detective John Rebus series but with <i>Bleeding Hearts</i> – which is not part of that series – he shows just how good he can be. It is scheduled for release on November 15th.

I can't praise this book enough. It does an excellent job of dealing with an anti-hero, an assassin who you would, in another context, deride but who gradually becomes the hero. And for that character to have hemophilia is a brillaint touch as it adds new complexities to criminal acts of violence.

Rankin was kind enough to agree to an interview with me via email.

Scott Butki: What was the impetus for this book?
Ian Rankin: The impetus behind Bleeding Hearts was really in the form of setting myself a structural challenge. Could I make an assassin into the 'good guy' by writing his sections in the first person, while the cop who is out to get him, whose story is told in the third person, becomes the bad guy? I decided that I wanted to write about a professional killer, but one with a fatal flaw. My 'hero' is a hemophiliac. Throughout the story, we know that any physical injury may prove fatal to him, yet he is the main character in a thriller, so his chances of remaining pristine are slim to say the least!

SB: To what do you account your popularity?
IR: What popularity I have is probably down to experience – over the past 20 years I have learned from mistakes and am now a much better writer as a result. I also try to write stories I would like to read, rather than sticking to any particular formula.

SB: Do you more closely relate to the “good guys” (the cops) or the “bad guys” (the criminals) or those in between?
IR: I prefer to write about the good guys, but only if they have interesting flaws to their characters. I have little interest in supermen. Villains appeal to me if they have a sense of personal morality at their core.

SB: What kind of research do you do for a book like this?
IR: For Bleeding Hearts I did a lot of research into various armaments, and also into the subject of hemophilia, added to which I did some travelling in the USA to ensure the various locales were written about with some degree of accuracy. (Though the book itself was written in France, so a few errors may have crept in!)

SB: What is the most common misconception about you?
IR: The most common misconception about me is probably that I am Detective John Rebus, or at least resemble him greatly in age, personal habits, and so on. I'm ten years younger than him and have never been a cop. Okay, so I do a little drinking for research purposes, but there the similarities end…

SB: Who are your influences?
I have been influenced by many books. As a kid I read A Clockwork Orange and started writing short stories under its influence. Later on, I wanted to explore the darker side of Scotland, and was influenced by writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) and James Hogg (Confessions of a Justified Sinner). In the crime genre, James Ellroy influenced aspects of my style from my novel Black and Blue onwards.

SB: How would you describe your writing style?
My novels may stretch to 400 pages, but I try to write them lean – making the reader do quite a lot of the work. I seldom describe characters at length, inviting the reader to imagine the faces, voices, and so on. I try to use few adjectives and adverbs, and few elaborate similes and metaphors. The style is as simple as my writing will allow.

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been working in mental health for the last ten years. He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.

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