Rebus: The Early Years

Friday, 28 May 2010

One issue that comes with a series is how to fill in the back story. An author setting out with a series in mind can provide enough back story to get started with and fill in the missing bits as the series unfolds and figures from the protagonist's past turn up on the scene. Rankin's aim to rewrite the classic story with Rebus as Dr Jekyll, however, means that most of the back story is right there in Knots & Crosses. The plot line can't work without Rebus' background in the SAS, his mental breakdown that took him out of the Army, his subsequent marriage and divorce.

Those details are filled in as Edinburgh experiences a series of abductions and subsequent murders of young girls. Rebus is involved with the investigation, but he's also involved in the case itself since he receives a taunting stream of anonymous letters that indicate he's somehow linked to the perpetrator, though he can’t remember anything that could explain the link.

At the same time, a journalist (Jim Stevens) has uncovered Rebus's brother Michael's involvement in drug dealing and suspects that Rebus knows of or supports those activities.

The brothers aren't that close, but when Rebus's ex-wife is attacked and his daughter abducted  Michael, a stage hypnotist, uncovers the link between Rebus, the abductions and military past. But it's still a matter of finding the culprit, and Rebus is removed from the case due to his personal involvement, though predictably, that doesn't stop him from running the man to ground in a chillingly unexpected location, given his ex-wife's precautions to ensure the daughter’s safe. 

As a starting point, Knots and Crosses works well enough to suggest there’s something in the character set and the situation, and the second full story, Hide and Seek, is set a couple of years down the track. Rebus has been promoted to Detective Inspector, his brother's in jail, his ex-wife and daughter have relocated south and the love/sex/whatever interest from Knots and Crosses has shacked up with a disc jockey.

The discovery of a drug addict's body in an Edinburgh squat, laid out cross-like on the floor, between burned-down candles, with a pentagram star painted on the wall above certainly looks like the result of some combination of drug overdose and Satanic ritual, but the bag of white powder he's clutching doesn't match the rat poison-laced dose that killed him. There's unexplained bruising on the victim's face and body, which seems to have been moved from upstairs, so as far as Rebus is concerned there's more to the matter than first impressions might indicate.

In the events that follow, Rebus oscillates between the creme de la creme and the dregs of Edinburgh society, largely due to the fact that his superior officer Detective Superintendent "Farmer" Watson, has decided he's the man to be the focus an anti-drugs campaign funded by some of the city's leading businessmen.

Rebus's involvement with that campaign never quite gets off the ground, but it's enough to get him away from regular duties, giving him the time to unravel the threads in what his colleagues are only too happy to see as a routine overdose in between expensive lunches, cocktail parties, and invitations to exclusive clubs.

Given the way these things go, there's a link between those social extremes, and it comes in the fact that the victim turns out to have been a photographer who has taken (and hidden) incriminating photographs in a private club frequented by the well-heeled businessmen Rebus has been hob-nobbing with at his boss's instigation.


© Ian Hughes 2012