Ian Rankin: king of tartan noir
Excerpts from the interview by Pam Lawrence in the February/March 2005 issue of Mystery News
Like all serious students of English literature, Ian Rankin spent a great deal of his time writing. Unlike most serious PhD students, the king of "Tartan Noir" spent his time writing short stories and novels. He never completed his PhD, or his thesis on that most popular Scottish novelist, Muriel Spark -- but he did go on, some 17 years later, to become the best selling crime novelist in the UK. Rankin's work is so pupular that one in ten crime novels sold across the pond has his name on it. Edinburgh University's loss then, became crime fiction's gain.
I was thrilled to interview the novelist in the fall, on his return from a successful book tour of Canada to promote his most recent novel, Fleshmarket Close, which will be entitled Fleshmarket Alley on its US release this February. With an Edgar for best novel of 2003 under his belt for Resurrection Men, it seems the modest Scot is on course to conquer North America.
Critics have hailed the new book as one of his best, discussing issues, as usual for Rankin, right off the front page of the UK dailies. Until very recently immigrants had never had a problem North of Hadrian's Wall; Rankin muses in this novel that the Scots had historically been too busy with religious bigotry to worry about racism. But racism rears its very ugly head here with a frightening look at a possibly racially motivated murder, a dreadful "holding" center for immigrants, and repercussions from a nasty rape case. Rankin's detective, John Rebus, is an outsider looking in. He has been shunted to a new police station, shoved into a corner by the coffee machine, with not even a desk of his own. Unsurprisingly, he is feeling squeezed out and pushed toward a retirement he doesn't want to consider...
...So what enables the bestselling author, now flush with success, to maintain the high standard he has set for himself over fifteen Rebus novels, a clutch of short stories, and other works? "We remain our own worst enemies and sternest critics because we want each new book to be so much better than the one before...and what keeps us writing is the certain knowledge that we have yet to write the perfect work, the work that says all we want it to way in the best, most original way possible..."
...It really doesn't matter where you begin reading Ian Rankin, just do it. You will take away from each novel a fresh understanding of an overpopulated crime genre, and learn a great deal about British beer, fish and chips, and vindaloo curry. Not to mention Irn Bru, a very popular drink for relieving hangovers. Funny and tragic, in turn, these novels are the dissection of the Scottish psyche by a master.
Read the complete interview in the February/March 2005 issue of Mystery News