Ragged Creatures: MysteryPeople Q&A with Ian Rankin

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Ian Rankin is on tour celebrating his thirty years with Rebus, chronicling the rough and ready Edinburgh copper. Even retired you can’t keep him off a case –  when he notes the connections between the cold case murder of a rock star’s girlfriend and the modern-day roughing up of a new tough guy around town, he can’t keep away from the investigation, especially with the knowledge that his old nemesis is the main suspect.  With Rebus working with former partner Clark and former Complaints detective Fox, we get one involving procedural in Rather Be The Devil.

Ian Rankin joins us to speak and sign Rather Be the Devil this Thursday February 16th, at 7PM. We caught up to him ask a few questions about the book and these well loved characters on both sides of the law.

MysteryPeople Scott: I know some of your books are loosely based on real crimes or cases. Is that the case here?

Ian Rankin: As usual, there’s a grain of actuality to one of the plots. It concerns financial shenanigans (not wanting to give too much away!), and was something I saw reported on the TV news in Scotland a couple of years back.

MPS: How much of a challenge has it been to keep Rebus investigating since he’s been retired?

IR: I’m finding there are pluses and minuses regarding Rebus’s retirement. He no longer has to follow procedure and protocol. On the other hand, he is distanced from the tools that would normally aid him in an investigation. I do have some fun with that – getting him in and out of police stations and CID offices. But I always have to be aware of his fresh limitations and try to use these to refresh the way I approach each new story.

MPS: Rather Be The Devil has Rebus looking into a cold case, Clark and Fox looking into a fresh one, and Cafferty maneuvering in both. How did you deal with so many spinning plates?

IR: I’m not sure how I keep those plates spinning. They seem to have a momentum all of their own, requiring only a little assistance from me. My first drafts are ragged creatures, but with each new draft I make it start to look as if the plots wee always going to work out and interconnect. And I do take a lot of notes as I write the first draft – things I need to add to the 2nd draft to make sure the various plots work out satisfactorily.

MPS: You’ve put Cafferty in a wonderful place for the reader as to where you’re not quite sure whose side he’s serving until its far into the book. What makes him such a malleable character?

IR: Cafferty is a force of nature. I’ve watched him grow old, and keep wondering: would he retire gracefully, leave the city open for new operators to pillage? Or would he stand his ground? I think he has changed his own mind during the past few books and that has changed my approach to him and to his plot-lines.

MPS: I was glad to see Fox had a number of moments in the series. What has made him worth keeping in your world?

IR: Fox is a company guy. There are more and more of them in the police these days, so he represents that. But he’s on the side of the angels, too, and adds something to the mix. Newly promoted above Siobhan Clarke, their relationship is constantly changing too.

MPS: Do you think Rebus could function in life without a crime to solve?

IR: I really don’t. I know a fair number of real-life cops and they have all managed to retire and move on to other phases of life. Rebus can’t do that. He would spend all his free time deep in introspection, and not like what he saw. Police work allows him to focus on the lives of others, examining their failings so he can ignore his own. And though he is officially retired, he has a whole head full of unsolved cases, cases he may wish to worry away at, since only closure brings him gratification.

You can find copies of Rather Be the Devil on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Ian Rankin comes to BookPeople to speak and sign his latest on Thursday, February 16th at 7 PM – come on by to celebrate thirty years of Rebus! 

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