The Top Five John Rebus Novels

strip jack

When I was younger, following on the heels of my obsession with Henning Mankell, I moved on to Ian Rankin and his brilliant Rebus novels. Whilst I’ll admit that haven’t kept up with the adventures of Ian Rankin’s dour Scottish detective over recent years, I have always enjoyed his escapades as he seeks to bring justice to the lawless Edinburgh streets.

What really makes this novels stand out to me is their multi-dimensional protagonist. Although John Rebus is an alcoholic, womanising former solider with authority issues and a grumpy ex-wife (thereby encompassing just about every stereotype going), Rankin portrays his character with great skill, and the reader is able to get inside Rebus’s head and really understand his thought process.

Much like my all-time favourite fictional detective, Mankell’s Kurt Wallander, the reader is able to see the good and the bad of Rebus and really understand his actions. Check out my top five picks which are guaranteed to get you hooked.

5. Fleshmarket Close: Touching on contemporary issues such as immigration and gang violence, Fleshmarket Close is an exciting novel with a strong, exhilarating plot. As ever, Rebus has to contend with a number of obstacles in his pursuit of justice as he battles to uncover the perpetrators a number of potentially related crimes.

4. Black & Blue: On trial in more ways than one, and hunting what he suspects is a renowned serial killer, this novel shows us Rebus at his best; backed in a corner with a murderer to catch. Showcasing multiple settings, the novel seamlessly blends between them as Rebus races to uncover the, as ever, unsavoury truth.

3. The Black Book: Possibly one of the most twisted, confusing novels I have ever read, The Black Book skilfully guides the reader through a series of interlinked crimes without becoming convoluted or preposterous. Rebus is on top form as he commits many derelictions of duty and blatantly flouts the rules in his quest for justice. Through Rankin’s novels I am always incredibly surprised that Rebus is not simply fired from the force for his behaviour, but then I suppose that would make this an incredibly short series. 

2. Knots and Crosses: The beginning is always a good place to start, and the Rebus series starts with a bang as we meet Detective Inspector John Rebus, who is hunting a child abductor and murderer. He is soon thrust into a high stakes race against time as the killer decides to make things personal, and the detective is forced to confront his past in order to overcome his demons and retrieve the missing girls, one of whom is his own daughter. A thrilling opener this novel makes for a great introduction to this exceptional character.

ian rankin

1. Strip Jack: This early Rebus novel is my favourite as it draws the character into the murky world of politics, where his hard hitting, tough talking ways are somewhat out of place as he investigates the framing of a young MP. It quickly becomes clear that all is not as it seems in this gilded young man’s life as Rebus wades through brothels, asylums and constant lies to uncover the truth following the disappearance of the MP’s wife.

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