He has been cracking cases from the third floor of an Edinburgh tenement for more than 30 years.
But now Inspector Rebus is to be moved out of his long-time home in his Marchmont stomping ground by his creator Ian Rankin – because of increasing ill-health.
The best-selling author has revealed his next novel will begin with his retired detective leaving his long-term abode for a new ground-floor home, due to the growing effects of an incurable lung disease he has been suffering from in recent novels.
Speaking at an in-conversation event at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, Rankin said he had been urged by his wife Miranda to give Rebus a serious illness after living a “charmed existence” despite smoking and drinking heavily.
The Fife-born author revealed that the character, who made his first appearance in his 1987 novel Knots and Crosses, was “definitely reaching an end point”.
Rebus has been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which affects nearly 140,000 Scots, and by the start of the new novel he will be unable to climb the two flights of stairs to his Marchmont flat.
Rankin admitted he had not started writing the next book yet, but was starting to experience “panic and terrible fear” about a deadline in June for his publisher.
The author previously decided to end the series in 2007 when Rebus reached retirement age – only to revive him five years later when it emerged he was helping to investigate “cold cases.” The next novel, which has yet to be named, will be the sixth since his official retirement.
Rankin was interviewed at a Book Week Scotland event by the Lung Ha Theatre company, which has worked with people with learning disabilities since 1984.
He said: “I made the decision early on that Rebus would live in real-time. We’re now living with a guy who is in his mid-to-late sixties who has smoked and drunk his whole life, and eaten fish suppers and not done any exercise. My wife said to me: ‘He’d a very charmed existence but that has to come to an end.’
“A friend of hers who is a doctor said to me: ‘He might well have COPD.’ I quite liked it because it had the word cop in it. But that changes the goalposts. He knows he is not immortal. He can’t climb stairs anymore.
“I shouldn’t tell you this, but the next book is going to open with him moving out of his flat. I put him in a flat on Arden Street that’s two flights up a tenement. He can’t do that anymore. A guy I know has COPD and I’ve been phoning him up for every book and asking him what Rebus would be doing now and how he would be coping. He’s the one that said stairs would be a real issue for him.
“I want him to feel real. He feels real to me. I just thought: ‘If he doesn’t age how can he feel real? We know the world is moving on quickly and we know Edinburgh keeps changing. How can I talk about these changes if Rebus doesn’t age?’
“He is having to deal with that and I am quite enjoying the challenge but I know it does limit what he can do.
“It makes me interested in him. When I’m writing a book it’s not like I’m going through the motions. His life’s moved on. My life’s moved on. It makes it interesting for me to keep writing about this guy. But there’s definitely an end point. There’s only so much I can do with him and there’s only so much he can do.
Rankin went on to describe his own anxieties about the prospect of returning to his famous character.
He added: “I’ve had a year off. The next book has to be done by June and I’ve not started writing it yet. I’m starting to feel the panic and that terrible fear. When that comes the adrenaline starts and the brain starts turning.”