“Knots and Crosses – Rebus #1” by Ian Rankin – perhaps it had more impact back in 1987?

Knots and Crosses“Knots and Crosses” ended up on my TBR pile because I saw Ian Rankin being interviewed about the release of “Even Dogs In The Wild”, the twentieth Rebus book. He sounded like an interesting guy, I’d enjoyed seeing John Hannah in the TV version of Rebus back in 2000, so I thought I’d go back to the start of it all and read the first Rebus book.

I think I now know why the TV version started with “Black and Blue”, book eight in the series. Book one was written a long, long time ago and it feels like it’s set in a universe far far away from here.

I came to the book expecting a Scottish Police Procedural with Rebus as the gifted but rebellious cop with a past.

What I got was quite different. In this book, Rebus is not a particularly gifted cop, he’s more a slightly surly under-achiever who has issues with people in authority. He does have a past, although we’re asked to believe that he’s suppressed the memory of it so thoroughly that it surfaces only in dreams and as occasional bouts mental fragility. In fact, he’s so unstable, some of his colleagues entertain the idea that he might be the serial killer in the story and not even know it himself.

It turns out that, back in 1987, when Ian Rankin wrote “Knots And Crosses”,  he had intended it as a modern day retelling of Stephenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, rather than as a crime book. I can almost see Rebus as Jekyll and Hyde. Sadly, the source of his split-personality is almost as incredible as the origins of Mr Hyde: SAS training breaks Rebus’ mind and he pays the price fourteen years later. It’s a bit of a stretch for a normal crime book.

Parts of the book are compelling, especial the SAS part of the story, and James MacPherson’s narration did a lot to improve my enjoyment of the book, but overall, I was disappointed. The premise stretched my belief to the limit. The ending is abrupt and a little anti-climatic. The puzzle is a little too “clever, clever” and the evocation of Edinburgh is a little thin.

I haven’t written Rebus off yet but I think I’ll skip the early years and move on to “Black and Blue”.

Click on the soundcloud link below to hear James MacPherson reading “Knots and Crosses”

 

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