Tuesday , September 29 2020
"The book I'm writing just now is provisionally the last Rebus novel."

Interview With Ian Rankin, Author of The Naming of The Dead

One of the current joys and pleasures in my life is interviewing artists, especially fellow writers. In the last five days I have written up interviews with three artists and today, writing this before I get out of bed to go sub, marks the fourth.

The topics have ranged from the unhealthy dust from the 9/11 attacks to a memoir by a by a journalist with a past cocaine problem to a triathlete-turned-author. Each exposed me to new thoughts, ideas and, often, other interesting artists.

Just as I might have never have given much thought to those concepts or checked out those artists were it not for the opportunity to interview them, such is also the case with Ian Rankin. I knew he was a best-selling crime writer in Great Britain but, if anything, that was seen by me as a strike against him.

You see, I often complain that the best-selling authors are not the best authors around. But there are notable exceptions, including some I’ve interviewed, including Michael Connelly, Robert Crais and Laura Lippman. And now I can add to that list Ian Rankin. I feel bad for having labeled him improperly. Bad Scott! Bad reviewer!

I had the pleasure last year of interviewing Rankin for his last book and found him, like his novel, engaging, engrossing and at times quite witty, albeit of a dark humor. His new book is, he says, his next to last book about his popular character of Inspector Rebus. Whether you are new to Rankin or a long-time reader I think you will really enjoy his new book.

I jumped at the chance to interview him for his new book, which comes out next week. I will let the man himself tell you what it is about.

Scott Butki: This interview is going to get published the week your book comes out. Would you mind summarizing in your own words what this book is about?

Ian Rankin: The Naming of the Dead takes place against the backdrop of July 2005's G8 meeting of world leaders in Scotland.  A politician falls from the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle, while a serial killer seems to be targeting the area around Gleneagles Hotel, where the G8 leaders are staying.  Inspector John Rebus must solve both cases while dealing with anarchist riots, demonstrations, and the disruptions that come when a city is in a state of siege.

In our prior interview you said that a common mistake/question was that you are just like Rebus. In your new book the Live 8 event is the backdrop and Rebus seems quite skeptical about the impact of the event and the motivations of its leaders. Do you share that cynicism? What did you really think of the event?

At the core of The Naming of the Dead is a pretty basic question: What difference do we make in the world?  Rebus is cast as the aging cynic, while his colleague Siobhan is younger and more idealistic. So while Rebus is dismissive of the power of rock stars to change the situation in Africa, Siobhan is hopeful.  Can concerts alter world events?  Can marches and protests change politicians' minds?  Can the individual make a difference?  Rebus is beginning to realise that during all the years he's been a cop, and for all the bad people he's put behind bars… crime is always with us.  As for my own view on all the above… it's somewhere between Rebus and Siobhan!

You make a few passing references to the incredibly popular CSI series. What do you really think of those series?

CSI is well-made, dramatic television.  But there are no crime scene labs like it in the UK… and probably very few like it in the real USA.  'Civilians' now think the police should be able to solve any crime, just by using science and technology, because they've seen it happen on TV. But it ain't like that.  Each police investigation comes with a budget attached, and you can't always afford to do the expensive analyses and experiments.  But hey, it's still great TV.

I noticed there is a series of video programs about the character Rebus but I decided not to watch them because I prefer to imagine for myself what he is like. Do you encourage readers to watch those programs or stick to their own imaginations? This topic came up recently when I interviewed Robert Crais who said he resists efforts for movies to be made about his recurring characters for the reasons I just articulated. What are your thoughts on that argument?

Well, they've made about eight of my books into TV movies now, utilizing two different actors. The feeling among fans is that the newer incarnation (actor Ken Stott) is physically closer to Rebus.  I can't really say, as I have no idea what Rebus looks like – I know the inside of his head, but not what he sees in the mirror of a morning.  I don't watch the TV films because I don't want actors' voices (and mannerisms, and faces, and sense of style) interfering with my own notions about the characters.

In your profile at Wikipedia it says, "Rankin has confirmed that after he writes his last Rebus novel in November 2006, he will start work on a five- or six- issue run on the comic book Hellblazer, although the story may be turned into a stand alone graphic novel instead." Is that correct? So this is the last Rebus book? Why?

The book I'm writing just now is provisionally the last Rebus novel… in that he lives in real time and has aged through the series from 40 to 60, and it so happens that in Scotland the cops are forced to retire when they hit sixty.  This situation may change, so the door is slightly ajar, or I can write about him in retirement. Or he can be be brought back to do cold cases (as happens to some retired cops in real life), or I can go back in time or stop the clock…  But I am working on this new book as if it is his last.  And yes, after that I'm signed up to do a short run of Hellblazer comics, maybe as a standalone graphic novel.  I started life wanting to write American comics, and at last I'm getting my wish! I also have a serial in the pipeline for the New York Times. It should start in May (in the Sunday magazine) and run for 15 weeks. It's set in Edinburgh but is not a Rebus story – though crime plays a big part in it!

What do you find appealing about writing for comic books?

I don't know the answer to that, as I've never tried writing properly for comics, but I've always enjoyed reading them.  My stories tend to be quite visual, and I'm looking forward to the challenge of using very few words, with lots of pictures. In the novel, you can use as many words as you like. This is not the case in comics.

I notice Rebus – and lots of the other cops in your book – often seem to drink while on the job, something which is discouraged, if not against the rules, with cops in the United States. Why do you think that is? Is that a cultural difference?

Though Rebus does drink while working, he is pretty much alone in that.  He is a dinosaur, the last of a dying breed of cops who would take a drink at lunchtime without it affecting their work-rate.  I doubt you'll see Siobhan drinking much more than a soft drink at lunchtime.  Of course, after work is another matter  –  the cops I have met in Scotland do like to visit the pub after work has finished for the day.

Cheaper than going to see a therapist, I guess.  Rebus has another problem however –  since March 2006 smoking has been banned in all bars, clubs, restaurants and work-places in Scotland.  So now he has to step outside to smoke, whatever the weather.  One further catch being, it is illegal to take an alcoholic drink outside with you when you exit the pub, so he can't drink and smoke at the same time.  Poor guy, but at least his health's improving…

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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