NO sooner does an Ian Rankin book hit the shelves than it soars to the top of the bestseller lists, knocking the new adult fiction from JK Rowling, Maeve Binchy and other big hitters off their number one perches.
It’s estimated that Rankin’s thrillers account for ten per cent of crime fiction sales in the UK. While huge noises have been made about Scandinavian crime writers including Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo, Rankin needs no massive publicity machine or hype to get his thrillers noticed. After all, he’s been around a long time: his most famous cop, Rebus, was created 25 years ago.
Rankin, 52, remains grounded despite his enormous success, even though he’s made a reported £25 million, tours extensively and appears regularly on TV, notably as a reviewer on Newsnight Review.
He has never watched the TV adaptations of his Rebus books, which starred John Hannah and subsequently Ken Stott.
“I’ve never watched Rebus because I don’t want actors’ voices and faces to start interfering with the voices that are already in my head,” he says.
But he admits he’s envious of the TV time given to certain other crime novels.
“I’m very jealous that when something Scandinavian comes on TV, it gets given ten or 20 hours, whereas the Rebus novels got 45 minutes per book, which was frustrating for me. There was very little space for character development.”
However, he has watched a new TV adaptation of Doors Open, his standalone novel about an art heist, starring Stephen Fry, which is due to be screened on STV over Christmas.
“It was terrific. It’s the best adaptation of any of my books. The screenwriter was a friend of mine, who kept it true to the book,” he says.
Writing in real time, five years ago Rankin was forced to retire Rebus at 60, until a policeman pal told him the retirement age had changed to 65, paving the way for Rebus to return.
In his 18th Rebus novel, Standing In Another Man’s Grave, the retired cop returns as a civilian working in a cold case unit and puts his colleagues’ backs up when he befriends a woman whose daughter has been missing for ten years after disappearing off the A9, and who has made a connection with the recent disappearance of a 15-year-old girl off the same stretch of road.
Rebus pursues the case, which fuels the anger of both old and new adversaries, including the teetotal and serious internal affairs investigator Malcolm Fox, the hero of Rankin’s two most recent police novels, The Complaints and The Impossible Dead.
Fox may have been the hero of those books, but in Rebus’s eyes he’s far from it and the scenes in which they appear together are a delight – the hard-bitten old-timer versus the whiter-than-white younger officer.
He’s currently on a tour of New Zealand and Australia and will be starting a new book in January, but has no idea if it will be about Fox or Rebus.
He says: “I don’t know what story’s going to pop into my head. It doesn’t get any easier. You’re always up against yourself. You have to work that little bit harder all the time.”
• Standing In Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin is published by Orion, £18.99