28th April 1960

Rebus author Ian Rankin is born

Author Ian Rankin was born in Fife in 1960. He is best known as the author of a series of novels focused on Detective Inspector John Rebus, most of which are set around Edinburgh. The first book in the series, Knots and Crosses, was published in 1987. As well as traditional fiction, he has produced short stories, graphic novels, television documentaries and plays.

Rankin’s own website lists the many jobs he took while working on his first books, including as a grape picker, swineherd and journalist. His first published novel, The Flood, was in shops one year before Rebus made his debut.

Novice novelist

Despite his extraordinary success in the years since, Rankin had similar problems to almost all debut authors early in his career. In 2012, he told The Guardian “My first novel was turned down by half a dozen publishers. And even after having published five or six books, I wasn’t making enough money to live on, and was beginning to think I’d have to give up the dream of being a full-time writer.” In the same piece, he told interviewer Laura Barnett that his biggest breakthrough came in 1997 when he won the Crime Writers’ Association’s Gold Dagger Award.

His work has often been characterised as Tartan Noir, which was coined in the 1990s “either by James Ellroy or Ian Rankin (depending on who you believe) and a whole new genre was born”, said Stuart MacBride in a BBC web feature, Tartan Noir: A Very Strange Beast, published in August 2016.

“Rankin’s Detective Inspector John Rebus, with his hard drinking and his philosophising and his disrespect for authority is cast from the same mould as DI Jack Laidlaw,” said MacBride. They were “men battling against the system, who only see the world in terms of black and white when it suits them.”

William McIlvanney and Jack Laidlaw

The Jack Laidlaw to whom he refers was created by Kilmarnock-born William McIlvanney, dubbed by The Telegraph of 25 May 2013 “the father of tartan noir”. The character first appeared in 1977 in a book titled, simply, Laidlaw. In 2020, The Guardian announced that Rankin was working to complete McIlvanney’s final novel, The Dark Remains, which had not been finished at the point of McIlvanney’s death, five years earlier, at the age of 79.

Rankin’s work has earned him many awards over the years. As well as the Golden Dagger mentioned above, he’s the recipient of France’s Grand Prix du Roman Noir and, in Germany, the Deutscher Krimpreis. In 2002 he was awarded the OBE for services to literature.



Other events that occured in April

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