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Literature / Rebus

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The Rebus novels are a series of crime books written by Scottish writer Ian Rankin. They are mostly set in Edinburgh (although the third book, "Tooth and Nail"note , is set in London) and centre on Detective Inspector John Rebus, a cynical policeman, who served in the British Army before the novels start.

Some of the books have been adapted for television, originally starring John Hannah, before Ken Stott took over the role, and others have been turned into radio plays for Radio Four.


There are 19 novels in the series, and several short stories.

Tropes Found in the Rebus Books:

  • The Alleged Car: Rebus' decrepit car in Standing in Another Man's Grave, which parallels Rebus' own aging body.
  • Always Murder: Somewhat justified. Rebus deals with murders exclusively (well, a few cases start off as missing persons...) but as a senior detective, that is pretty much what his workload would be. However the short stories have him dealing with more mundane crimes, mainly theft.
  • Been There, Shaped History: In The Naming of the Dead, John Rebus and Siobhan Clarke have an interesting encounter with an unnamed U.S. president.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Happening to Rebus as of Rather Be the Devil, thanks to developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder after a lifetime of heavy smoking. There's also a spot on his lung. It turns out to be benign.
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  • Connect the Deaths: The plot of Even Dogs in the Wild. One of the deaths has only been made to look like it's part of the serial killer's MO, but the others are linked.
  • Cowboy Cop: Rebus is less inclined to use physical violence than your average Cowboy Cop (although he's not entirely above it), but certainly has little place for rules and procedures when they stop him getting his man.
  • Defective Detective: Rebus has all the stereotypical personal problems associated with being a detective, ranging from what looks like PTSD in the earliest novels to excessive drinking.
  • Dirty Cop: Played With.
    • Rebus is sometimes seen as one due to his closer-than-really-acceptable relationship with gangster Gerald "Big Ger" Cafferty, but he's really on the straight and narrow (mostly) and his relationship with Cafferty is more like Friendly Enemy at best.
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    • The first novel Knots and Crosses was written in such a way as to imply that Rebus himself could be the killer. Though the subsequent publication of another 18 novels (and counting) rather gives away the fact that he isn't.
    • Played straight with Beth Hastie and Jackie Dyson in Even Dogs in the Wild.
  • Double-Meaning Title:
    • Hide and Seek is about Rebus hunting a killer and the last thing the victim said was "Hide!" The title also reflects the fact Rankin wrote the novel as a Setting Update of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There is also the main characters' name- a "rebus" is a picture that is also a puzzle and originally, Rankin intended the book to be ambiguous about whether or not Rebus and the killer were actually the same man, though naturally this will fly over the head of anyone who reads them today if they know it is an ongoing series about a heroic detective.
    • Fleshmarket Close starts out in the Edinburgh street of the same name (so called because it used to be a butcher's market), but goes on to be about two different "fleshmarkets"; prostitution and trade in illegal immigrants.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Rankin has said that Rebus' interests in the early books (jazz music, in particular) were there because Rankin was into those things, and as the novels progressed, Rebus developed more of his own personality. He also said he wrote the novel to make it deliberately ambiguous to the reader if the killer was actually out there (which he was) or if the killer was actually Rebus himself, although of course the mere existence of the rest of the series means this is lost on most new readers.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: In Even Dogs in the Wild, Ger Cafferty makes it clear to Rebus that his villainy does not extend to sexually abusing teenage boys in care, and he feels real guilt about his part in covering up for a violent abuser.
  • Hero Antagonist: In Standing in Another Man's Grave, Malcolm Fox, the protagonist of Rankin's novels about Internal Affairs, comes after Rebus because of his ongoing association with Cafferty (see Dirty Cop).
  • Kicked Upstairs: After the events of Even Dogs in the Wild, Malcolm Fox is promoted to the elite squad at Gartcosh for political reasons that have nothing to do with his qualifications, as he is painfully aware.
  • Limited Advancement Opportunities: Rebus doesn't make it beyond DI, thanks to his joint reputation as Cowboy Cop and Dirty Cop.
    • When he comes out of his 10-Minute Retirement, Rebus winds up demoted to DS, meaning that he's now Siobhan's subordinate.
  • Mutilation Interrogation: In Rather Be the Devil, Ger Cafferty gets information out of a recalcitrant informant by nailing him to the floor.
  • My Local: Rebus particularly enjoys spending his off hours in The Oxford Bar, a real pub in Edinburgh.
  • Old Cop, Young Cop: Rebus and Siobhan.
  • Pet the Dog: Cafferty's behavior in Even Dogs in the Wild, once he understands the serial killer's motivation.
    • The novel also features a literal example of this trope. Everyone wants to pet the friendly stray terrier who appears outside of Cafferty's house. Eventually, Rebus gives in and adopts him.
  • Religious Bruiser: One of the police officers spends his downtime preaching on street corners.
    • In the first few novels, Rebus himself, when he's still a self-identified Christian.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Exit Music is set around the G8 conference in Gleneagles and the anti-poverty protests it prompted in Edinburgh.
    • About half of the books are this, dealing with Scottish politcial and social issues from illegal immigration to The Troubles.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Rebus and Siobhan Clarke with Malcolm Fox in Saints of the Shadow Bible.
  • 10-Minute Retirement: Saints of the Shadow Bible has Rebus back on the job again.


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