The first in a series of great detective novels

detective novels

John Rebus makes his debut as a Detective Sergeant in the Edinburgh police in Knots and Crosses. He’s been on the force for fifteen years following a decorated career in the British Army and, for a time, in the original special forces unit, the Special Air Service. He’s a disagreeable sort, disliked by most of his colleagues. His superiors tolerate him because he’s proven to be such a good detective.

It’s that reputation as a skilled investigator that leads to his being assigned to the task force pulled together to investigate a pair of horrific strangulation murders of Edinburgh girls aged 11-12—the age of Rebus’ daughter Samantha. Like several others, he and his partner are assigned to menial tasks. For days, the team makes no progress at all until finally Rebus turns up a useful clue in long-overlooked eyewitness reports. His recognition for this breakthrough brings him to the attention of Inspector Gill Templer, the force’s liaison with the press. Their relationship develops quickly as the investigation lurches forward—and more girls are murdered.


Knots and Crosses (Inspector Rebus #1) by Ian Rankin (2007) 244 pages @@@@@ (5 out of 5)


Rebus’ father was a stage hypnotist, as is his younger brother Michael. Michael soon emerges as a major character in the tale, as does the investigative reporter who is convinced he is involved in drug trafficking. In fact, the reporter believes that John Rebus is also involved, and his obsessive pursuit of that belief complicates the detective’s life.

A cut above the usual run of detective novels

Knots and Crosses is a cut above the usual serial killer thriller. The suspense is palpable, and Rankin succeeds in making us care a great deal about his protagonist. It’s no surprise that he resurrected Rebus in a long series of sequels and is successfully continuing to do so to this day.
About the author

Knots and Crosses was the first of Ian Rankin‘s Inspector Rebus detective novels, published in 1988. Rankin was dismayed when the critics treated it as detective fiction. He had set out to write a mainstream novel. Presumably, he’s no longer disappointed, having won dozens of literary awards and sold millions of copies of his books. He, his wife, and their two sons live in Edinburgh near fellow writers J.K. Rowling, Alexander McCall Smith, and Kate Atkinson.

For additional reading

This is one of the many Mysteries and thrillers set in Scotland that I’ve reviewed here.

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