Northern Ireland

Ian Rankin: Edinburgh crime author tells of his Belfast connections

Ian Rankin
Image caption Edinburgh author Ian Rankin is a regular visitor to Belfast, the city where his wife grew up

Ian Rankin may set almost all of his novels in his home city of Edinburgh, but the crime writer has plenty of connections to Northern Ireland.

"My wife grew up in Belfast during the Troubles and I started coming to Northern Ireland in 1981," he said.

"We were at university together when we started dating, and her mother, two brothers and sister are all here, so we come to Northern Ireland quite a lot."

As a result, he regularly visits Belfast, often giving readings at a bookshop on the city's Botanic Avenue.

And those connections meant that when he began to write about the brilliant maverick Edinburgh detective John Rebus, he gave him a past in Northern Ireland before he joined the Scottish police.


"It was picked up in one or two books that Rebus served time in the Parachute Regiment and served time in Northern Ireland," he said.

"That gave me a wee bit of a plot in one of the earlier books, but in the first couple of books I was still getting to know him, so having created that back story for him, I've got to remember 20 or 30 years on that that is his story."

The latest of more than 20 Rebus novels has just been released and Rankin is in Belfast to introduce Even Dogs in the Wild to his many Northern Ireland fans.

John Rebus is nearly 70 in the book, but, though retired, he cannot let his career fighting crime go.

His life has also become increasingly intertwined with his long-time nemesis, gangster 'Big' Ger Cafferty, as he investigates a threat to Cafferty's life.


"They're like Cain and Abel - you never know if they'll become best friends or kill each other," he said.

"Cafferty's always had a moral code, although he's a gangster, but he now sees himself as dinosaur or an old boxer who has one fight left in him and Rebus feels the same.

"These guys are being sidelined by life, but they keep wanting to punch back."

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Rankin interviewed Van Morrison on stage in Belfast, Dublin and London at the singer's request

Readers of the series will know that the obsessive Rebus rarely takes a break, but when he does one of the few pastimes he has is listening to music, often alone late at night in his flat.

And when he puts a record on, it is likely to be by a very famous Northern Ireland musician, which has led to a relationship away from the page.


"Van Morrison got to know that I was a fan of his music, so he asked me to pen the introduction to his lyrics when he was bringing a book of them out last year," he said.

"To promote that, he then asked if I would interview him on stage at three concerts - we did London, Dublin and then Belfast.

"I interviewed him for half-an-hour on stage in Belfast - people were crying in the audience, they'd never heard Van speak for half-an-hour before," he laughs.

"That was terrific, and then he invited me across for his 70th anniversary concert on Cyprus Avenue."

"I got to sit and watch him in the sun at the end of August, so it was a memorable occasion."


Rankin said he also enjoys reading Northern Ireland crime writers like Adrian McKinty and Colin Bateman.

Rebus may now be picking up his pension, but the character still has plenty of life.

"I can see one or two books in which I can write him almost like a private eye," the author said.

"He can't chase crooks or stand up to the hard men anymore, so he's got to use his wit and his guile.

"I quite enjoy that, the fact he has to live on his wits rather than by his physical presence."