Knots and Crosses

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by Ian Rankin

Drained by his divorce, too little time with his daughter Samantha and the demands of being a detective sergeant for the Edinburgh police department, John Rebus is filling the hole with alcohol.

When two girls are murdered, Rebus’ boss sets up a special task force to turn over every stone possible to find their killer and stop future murders.

Rebus welcomes the intense hours. It’s serious, old school police work. He puts the mysterious envelopes with odd knotted strings and crossed sticks he’s been receiving out of his mind and goes to work.

But it’s what’s in Rebus’s mind — his subconscious mind — that drives this story. Before joining the police force, Rebus had been in the Special Air Service (SAS).  His training was so severe and traumatic that he left the army. He has blocked most of his experience out of consciousness, ironic given that both Rebus’s father and brother are hypnotists. Several times he has been on the verge of an emotional breakdown.

It takes a woman colleague on the police force to make Rebus realize that what is locked in his mind is critical to the investigation. Things become even more urgent when a linguistics professor calls the station and suggests that the names of the murdered girls might be an anagram. If so, Rebus’s daughter could be the next victim.

Although well-written, this book reads like many, many other police procedurals. It escapes being a cliche, but readers need to make it through a good half of the book before it starts taking a more original turn. Author Ian Rankin has set himself a challenge given that most of the clues are buried in Rebus’s subconscious — and what he doesn’t know, readers don’t know.

This is a popular series with more than 20 books. Although Knots and Crosses didn’t whet my appetite for more, I am curious how he follows up this dramatic debut.

The books that follow Knots & Crosses in this series (in order) are:

  • Hide and Seek
  • Tooth and Nail
  • Strip Jack
  • The Black Book
  • Mortal Causes
  • Let It Bleed
  • Black and Blue
  • The Hanging Garden
  • Dead Souls
  • Set In Darkness
  • The Falls
  • Resurrection Men, which won the 2004 Edgar Award.
  • A Question of Blood
  • Fleshmarket Close
  • The Naming of the Dead
  • Exit Music
  • Standing in Another Man’s Grave, which is the first of several books that include both Rebus and his second series character Detective Inspector Malcolm Fox.
  • Saints of the Shadow Bible
  • Even Dogs in the Wild
  • Rather be the Devil
  • In a House of Lies

The Author: Ian Rankin, OBE DL FRSE FRSL (1960 – )

After graduating from the University of Edinburgh, Ian Rankin spent three years writing novels when he was supposed to be working towards a doctorate on author Muriel Spark.

Ian’s first novel Summer Rites remains in his bottom drawer, but his second novel, The Flood, was published in 1986. His first Rebus novel, Knots & Crosses, was published the following year.

The Rebus series is now translated into 22 languages and the books are bestsellers on several continents. They are considered major additions to the tartan noir genre. Ten of them have been adapted as an ITV television series starring John Hannah and Ken Stott as Rebus in different episodes.

He has written a second series featuring Detective Inspector Malcolm Fox, who works in the Complaints and Conduct Department of the Lothian and Borders Police, which investigates suspected misconduct by the police.

Rankin has also written standalone novels including Doors Open, which was televised in 2012, short stories, a graphic novel (Dark Entries), and a play (with Mark Thomson, the Royal Lyceum Theatre’s Artistic Director) Dark Road, which premiered at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, in 2013. There are also a number of novels under the pseudonym ‘Jack Harvey’ and in 2005 he collaborated with singer Jackie Leven on a CD. A non-fiction book Rebus’s Scotland was published in 2005.

Ian Rankin has been elected a Hawthornden Fellow, and is also a past winner of the Chandler-Fulbright Award. He is the recipient of four Crime Writers’ Association Dagger Awards, including the prestigious Diamond Dagger in 2005. In 2004, Ian won America’s celebrated Edgar Award for Resurrection Men, the 13th Rebus novel. He has also been shortlisted for the Edgar and Anthony Awards in the USA, and won Denmark’s Palle Rosenkrantz Prize, the French Grand Prix du Roman Noir and Germany’s Deutscher Krimipreis.


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