I finally caught up with Rebus comparatively recently. In my case it was only last year that I began reading the series in spite of the generous reviews and Edinburgh being of my origins. It was the latter that finally convinced me to read the Rebus books and I have to say that seven or eight books later I’m glad I did.
Despite the sometime prickliness of the main character he remains difficult not to like, his quick and acerbic wit sees to that. His is a character written by Ian Rankin with great depth and with many levels and skins. The same can be said of many of the main personalities in the books who usually manage to remain unpredictable yet believable. Inspector Rebus is rarely portrayed in a heroic way, but rather as a maverick figure. This may at first appear a little routine in a police story but this facet of his personality is handled carefully by Rankin and never overplayed nor in the least predictable.
Knowing the city of Edinburgh well undoubtedly adds to the pleasure and interest in reading Ian Rankin’s books. Most people that hail from Auld Reekie will be aware of, if not necessarily communicative about the fact, that Edinburgh has very much two sides to it – the image that the visitor/tourist sees but also the grimmer reality of the city’s ‘other’ face. The hard-nosed graveyard humour remains a welcome blast of home additionally.
Always curious is John Rebus’s taste in music. Portrayed as a once-avid collector of vinyl, his record collection remains staunchly stuck in the seventies and song and album titles enter his consciousness at most opportune times.
The most curious aspect of reading the Rebus novels for me is that I have never viewed either of the TV series about the story. Most often John Hannah, the previous Rebus, was criticised not for his acting but for the fact that he appeared a little young and fresh for the part and was miscast in that respect. Ken Stott, another fine Scottish actor but with a trademark more grizzled appearance seems to be far more suitable for the role by most people’s conception. By merely viewing the TV trailers I now find it difficult not to imagine Stott’s face when I read the novels.
On a couple of occasions I have visited John Rebus’s favourite watering hole in Edinburgh, The Oxford Bar or The Ox’ as he refers to it. This most unassuming of back street bars may surprise the casual visitor as it contains no trappings whatsoever of it’s fame through the novels and TV series. The less-than-salubrious exterior however belies a well-stocked bar and a lot of originality. Step into the front bar for a ‘blether’ or take your newpaper and settle down in the ‘back room’ with a few pints of IPA. Viewable inside is the infamous pie machine and a nice gantry worthy of note. One might note though that Rebus’ favourite breakfast in The Ox is a couple of packets of crisps!