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Inspector Rebus #1

Knots & Crosses

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‘And in Edinburgh of all places. I mean, you never think of that sort of thing happening in Edinburgh, do you...?’
That sort of thing... is the brutal abduction and murder of two young girls. And now a third is missing, presumably gone to the same sad end. Detective Sargeant John Rebus, smoking and drinking too much, his own young daughter spirited away south by his disenchanted wife, is one of many policemen hunting the killer. And then the messages begin to arrive: knotted string and matchstick crosses — taunting Rebus with pieces of a puzzle only he can solve.

226 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1987

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About the author

Ian Rankin

350 books5,702 followers
AKA Jack Harvey.

Born in the Kingdom of Fife in 1960, Ian Rankin graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1982 and then spent three years writing novels when he was supposed to be working towards a PhD in Scottish Literature. His first Rebus novel was published in 1987; the Rebus books are now translated into 22 languages and are bestsellers on several continents.

Ian Rankin has been elected a Hawthornden Fellow. He is also a past winner of the Chandler-Fulbright Award, and he received two Dagger Awards for the year's best short story and the Gold Dagger for Fiction. Ian Rankin is also the recipient of honorary degrees from the universities of Abertay, St Andrews, and Edinburgh.

A contributor to BBC2's Newsnight Review, he also presented his own TV series, Ian Rankin's Evil Thoughts, on Channel 4 in 2002. He recently received the OBE for services to literature, and opted to receive the prize in his home city of Edinburgh, where he lives with his partner and two sons.


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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,632 reviews
Profile Image for Baba.
3,619 reviews985 followers
February 4, 2022
Inspector Rebus mystery No. 1: I'd been toying with Rankin's other crime fiction work, but then it was time to read the real thing. The first Rebus novel. A captivating and at times consuming tale; there's a serial killer of young girls; and Rebus' brother appears to be involved in drugs, and Rebus himself without a clue about either matter. Claustrophobic at times, stuck in the greasy, dark and cold world of Rebus, but has there ever been a more realistic portrayal of a detective getting on, doing what he likes, the way he likes, using all his past experience and skills as his steer, and not necessarily succeeding? 7 out of 12.

2010 read
Profile Image for Kylie D.
464 reviews516 followers
November 20, 2019
I first read this book many years ago, along with many others in the series, then lost touch with them, so I decided to revisit it from the start. In this novel we are introduced to the then DS Rebus, a flawed, very human character, who readers can instantly relate to, which is probably the main reason for the popularity of this series. Though not as polished as the later books in the series, it is still immensely readable, and gives us a great background to Rebus, and an insight into his personality. But be warned, this series will suck you in. Recommended for all lovers of crime and mysteries.
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
3,005 reviews10.6k followers
December 29, 2014
Girls are being kidnapped and murdered around Edinburgh and John Rebus is on the case. But what, if anything, do the disappearances have to do with bizarre letters Rebus has been getting in the post?

The mother-in-law of the owner of my favorite used bookstore has been on my ass for years to give the Inspector Rebus books a shot. When this one turned up during one of my semi-weekly visits, I decided it was time.

This slim volume packs quite a punch. As the first book in a mystery series, it has a lot of heavy lifting to do, which it does quite well. John Rebus left the SAS under mysterious circumstances and joined the police department. Fifteen years later, he's divorced with a teenage daughter and has large blank areas in his past. When the past comes knocking at his door, it's time to pay the piper.

John Rebus reminded me of a lot of detectives from the time Knots and Crosses was written, like Elvis Cole, for instance, but what he really reminded me of was a late 1980's version of Dorothy Sayers' shell-shocked aristocrat detective, Lord Peter Whimsey. Rebus' buried past lurks on the periphery of his day to day life with the Edinburgh PD, much like Lord Peter's.

Rebus has a lot baggage, from his stage hypnotist brother to his ex-wife and everything in between. He's a sad bastard in a long line of sad bastard detectives but has enough uniqueness that I'll be happy to visit him again in the future.

The mystery wasn't really solveable but I think Knots and Crosses was more of a setup book than anything else. Rankin's writing was pretty good. I think he did a good job of portraying cops as real people. I have to wonder if Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad was influenced by Rankin.

That's enough rambling. 3.5 out of 5 stars. I didn't love it but I liked it enough to want to read more books featuring John Rebus.

Profile Image for Barbara.
1,393 reviews4,902 followers
November 23, 2021

Detective Sergeant John Rebus joined the Edinburgh police force 15 years ago, after leaving the special forces unit of the British Army (SAS). Rebus is a solid cop, respected (if not quite liked) by his superiors.

As the story unfolds we learn that Rebus's brutal SAS training left him profoundly troubled, so that he drinks too much, has a failed marriage behind him, and has a somewhat distant relationship with his young teenage daughter Samantha.

When a serial killer starts murdering young girls in Edinburgh, Rebus is drafted onto the team investigating the deaths. At about the same time Rebus starts getting anonymous letters with cryptic messages, which he thinks are from some joker - maybe even his ex-wife or daughter.

As Rebus assists with the serial killer inquiry he's unaware that a reporter, Jim Stevens, is stalking him.

It seems that Stevens thinks Rebus's brother Michael - a successful stage hypnotist - is pushing drugs and that detective Rebus is helping him. Stevens hopes that by cracking this 'conspiracy' he'll become famous and successful. The reporter becomes even more determined to nail Rebus when the detective starts dating attractive Detective Inspector Gillian Templer - who once went out with Stevens (literally once).

As the killings continue, and the anonymous letters keep coming, it becomes clear that the murderer has a fixation on Rebus himself. Unfortunately, Rebus can't think who might have a grudge against him, especially since he's blocked memories of his SAS days. Eventually (with a little help) Rebus recalls his past and a tip from the public provides needed clues.

The detective puts all this together and figures out the identity and motives of the killer, which leads to a dramatic confrontation.

Though I've read many books in the Rebus series, I hadn't read this first one until now. The story serves as a good introduction to detective Rebus himself, but the plot is too simplistic and somewhat unlikely. It also starts off overly slowly but starts zipping along once Rebus gets into the thick of the investigation.

For a cop on the job for 15 years Rebus's intuition is underdeveloped. He's way too slow on the uptake about the anonymous letters. Granted Rebus has a clouded memory due to his SAS training, but getting weird letters in the midst of a murder spree should ring a bell in ANY detective's mind.

The author violates one of my pet peeves in this book. As much as I like Rebus as a detective I don't believe his paunchy, sloppy-looking self would get beautiful DI Gill Templer to sleep with him right off the bat. In my opinion (some) male authors are especially prone to write this kind of male fantasy and I never find it credible.

Overall, I enjoyed this first book in the series and feel like it's a good introduction to Rebus and his personality. The series gets even better in later books, with Rebus becoming more fully realized as a character and the mysteries themselves becoming more sophisticated and complex.

Still, I'd recommend the book to mystery fans. The Rebus books are well-worth reading and this is a good place to start.

You can follow my reviews at https://reviewsbybarbsaffer.blogspot....
Profile Image for James Tivendale.
317 reviews1,342 followers
August 28, 2019
"These tourists spent so much time photographing things that they never actually saw anything, unlike the young people milling around, who were too busy enjoying life to be bothered capturing false impressions of it."

At the moment my TV viewing is mainly made up of watching detective thrillers. Sherlock, True Detective, Midsomer Murders, Father Brown, etc... When I really enjoy watching a series I sometimes decide to check out the books to see how close they are to what I've viewed and because I also adore a good mystery read. That's what I did with Knots and Crosses, the first entry in the Inspector Rebus series.

Two 11-year-old girls were kidnapped and subsequently murdered by a criminal known as the Edinburgh Strangler. He seems to be a child murderer that the police can't catch. The violence and reasons for the killings are not sexual. Inspector Rebus from Edinburgh is a well-respected booze-loving, maverick police officer and is one of many officers working the case. He does, however, feel uncomfortable as he also has an 11-year-old daughter. It may even be that the killer could know Rebus as they send him cryptic messages on the days that the girls are abducted and the envelopes include a knot of string or a matchstick cross.

The main characters we follow are Rebus, his policeman ally Cambell, a journalist called Stevens, a media liaison officer called Templer, and his hypnotist brother. This is a complex and thrilling tale which Rankin described as being a modern-day interpretation of Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and is based partly on the real-life gentleman criminal Deacon William Brodie. I devoured this in 24-hour hours and thought it was pretty awesome. The way I analysed the written portrayal of Rebus was more in line with John Hannah's presentation than Ken Stott's. I also enjoyed reading about sections that were only hinted at briefly in the television versions such as an emotionally despondent segment where under hypnosis Rebus reflects on his time training for the SAS. The conclusion was nicely wrapped up and exciting until the very end. I believe Rankin didn't initially intend for Inspector Rebus to turn into a series so everything wraps up nicely here but I'll definitely carry on reading the adventures of everyone's favourite drunken wildcard Scottish policeman.
Profile Image for Brad.
Author 2 books1,712 followers
June 7, 2011
I had low expectations going into this. Being a big fan of Scottish lit, I've always kept Rankin at arms length, thinking that he'd be too pulpy and pop culturey to be worth reading. I'm comfortable enough to own my snobbery.

Lately, though, I've felt Rankin's pull, especially since Henning Mankell's Wallander books reignited my interest in crime fiction. I have a thing for those damaged, brooding, middle aged, drink-too-much detectives, whose world view is so beaten and jaded by what they've seen and done that they are doomed to a slow path of self-destruction. So I thought it was probably time to give Rankin a try.

I have never seen an on-screen adaptation of Rebus, so I had no preconcieved BBC notions to overcome, but I decided to take a crack at Rankin's first novel, The Flood, first, hoping that a peek at one of his none-detective novels would seed an appreciation for his writing before I tackled Rebus. It didn't. I was mostly disappointed, and I appreciatred little that he had done. Still, I saw enough potential there in his writing to pick up the first Rebus book from my shelf and give it a go.

Surprise, surprise, I really liked it, and I was impressed with the way Ian Rankin used the obligatory detective's-family-in-peril cliche. Every police detective series with any staying power has one of these episodes, but they usually come deeper in the series, when the author and his audience have a more personal stake in the protagonist's life. There is no build up of love for Rebus here, no chance for us to overcome our disdain for some of his nasty behaviour (his petty theft and possible sexual assault of a one night stand), it's just straight into personal peril. I didn't expect that, so I was searching for other alternatives from the off, making the truth harder to see and far more effective.

I would have liked a more tragic ending, and I thought the lack of full out tragedy betrayed the character of Gordon Reeves, a character Rankin had done a marvelous job creating, but it was still emotionally satisfying, and if the rest of the Rebus novels are this good I am afraid my snobbery will be a thing of the past. I am such a pushover.
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,081 reviews621 followers
January 16, 2021
I first sampled the Rebus series at book 12 (The Falls) and have subsequently read books 8 to 19 (Rankin’s latest) in random order. This hasn’t been a problem, there is a background thread that runs through the series – an army career, a failed marriage and a daughter – but it’s really just background noise to whatever is happening in the current book. This time I decided to go back to the start, to book 1.

The first thing that struck me was how different the style is. The later stories resound with the Edinburgh copper’s wry humour and his cynical, irreverent approach to his superiors. This first offering is much darker and at times the prose is lyrical to the extent it feels like reading poetry. The details too have changed with time. The love of jazz has morphed into a passion for 60’s and 70’s classic rock. The drinking is now undertaken almost exclusively in the Oxford Bar (a real life pub I’ve visited), a venue not mentioned in K&C. And, more subtly, the early Rebus feels much more of a damaged soul as he wrestles with nightmares of his army past and reflects religious belief and knowledge of the Bible I don’t recall from readings of his later adventures.

So what of K&C itself? Once I’d adjusted to the old Rebus, I quickly became absorbed in what is an intriguing mystery as Rebus and his colleagues attempt to chase down a child murderer. It’s cleverly plotted and complex enough to keep even the most attentive reader on their toes. But it’s Rebus himself and the past that haunts him that’s the real star turn here. It’s easy to see how this Rebus begat the one I’d grown to know and love. There are some gaps, Rebus will need to grow into the character I’ve become familiar with, but the good news is that I’ve still got books 2 to 7 to enjoy watching him mature.
Profile Image for Tea Jovanović.
Author 410 books686 followers
June 15, 2013
Legendarni škotski autor krimića čije su knjige doživele sjajne ekranizacije a njegov Rebus proslavio ga je širom sveta... Samo ga kod nas publika ignoriše iako smo teškom mukom obezbedili prava za njegove knjige i objavili čak 4 naslova iz serijala o rebusu...
Profile Image for Lawyer.
384 reviews841 followers
December 20, 2015
Knots and Crosses: John Rebus and the Book of Job

“Job, actually. I read it once a long time ago. It seems more frightening now though. The man who begins to doubt, who shouts out against his God, looking for a response, and who gets one. ‘God gave the world to the wicked,’ he says at one point, and ‘Why should I bother?’ at another.”

“It sounds interesting. But he goes on bothering?”

“Yes, that’s the incredible thing.”

Conversation between Detective Sergeant John Rebus and Detective Inspector Gill Templer
Damned if I haven't met myself coming and going in Knots and Crosses, the first John Rebus novel by Ian Rankin. After sharing a quote from the novel, a friend from the UK responded it seemed I was identifying with John Rebus. An adept observation. However, I felt it more a matter of staring at myself in the mirror reading through this debut of a rather complex character. Considering some of the reviewers' opinions of John Rebus, he's either loved, hated, or merely shrugged off. Fancy that. Aren't we all? In spite of whatever opinion we may have of our own self.

While not a policeman, I was a career prosecuting attorney. I worked closely with law enforcement of all ranks. I was a go to Assistant District Attorney. Give it to Mikey. Mikey likes it. Well, I didn't like it. How do you like dead bodies in situ? The stench of voided bladders and sphincters. Floaters. Bodies undiscovered for days of temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Farenheit.

Cases involving children are the worst. I have mentioned it in other reviews. I will not repeat the detail here. However, I will say, having attended the exhumation of a child for a re-autopsy, whom I originally saw dead on a hospital gurney, and was present for the original autopsy, I recommend cremation if given the choice. Especially if the burial plot is beneath the water table. I have flashbacks to that case to this day.

Detective Sergeant John Rebus is involved in the investigation of a serial killer in Edinburgh, Scotland. All the victims are children between the ages of eight to twelve. He is only one of many. Really on the outskirts of the investigation. Assigned to the Incidents room scouring over reports looking for possible leads in the investigation. Tracking down reports involving a particular model of car following the report of a citizen having seen such a vehicle in connection with the abduction of one of the victims.

When you are a John Rebus, you realize most people go through life as tourists, just as the tourists who visit Edinburgh. They see the statue of Greyfriar's Bobby in the Kirkyard, the towering buildings, the usual sights, and take the usual photographs. Most people do live a Disney life, untouched by violence, safe in the knowledge that such things always happen to other people. That most of the time, whoever ends up dead did something they should have known better than to do, and all cases are solved within sixty minutes on the telly.

Rebus knows otherwise. So do I. That's why Rebus, the thinking man, isn't above having a go at the God of Job.

At times Rebus questions his own faith. “...trapped in limbo, believing in a lack of belief, but not necessarily lacking the belief to believe.”

As the investigation drags on and the number of victims increases, “Rebus reminded himself to stop praying. Perhaps if he stopped praying, God would take the hint and stop being such a bastard to one of his few believers on this near-godforsaken planet.”

Perhaps Rebus thinks Job's God is having the mickey off the innocent. I often thought so. I teetered on and off the road of faith for years. I've now reconciled myself to being what I call an "Orthodox Heretic," or perhaps a hopeful agnostic. Taking Pascal's Wager might be a safe bet.

It is far from a Disney World.

“Ah, but it was not a nice world this, not a nice world at all. It was an Old Testament land that he found himself in, a land of barbarity and retribution.”

Through the investigation of the abductions and murders of the young girls of Edinburgh, Rebus reviews his life as a policemen. Not unlike many of his comrades.

“Fifteen years, and all he had to show were an amount of self-pity and a busted marriage with an innocent daughter hanging between them. It was more disgusting than sad.”

Alarmingly, Rebus' daughter, Samantha, is twelve. It's hard not to have a chill run up the spine.

Once more I look into the mirror. For me, it was a marriage of twenty years, two children. Busted. I have grandchildren I've never met. I'm one up on Rebus. My second marriage is on the downhill run. It's never clear what exactly led to Rebus and his wife divorcing. I think it had to do with the work. The hours. The time away. I remember being told "You care about other people's children more than your own." The fact was, I knew mine were safe. I saw to that. But the work was relentless.

Rebus tells us.

“No sooner had he finished with a case than another two or three appeared in its place. What was the name of that creature? The Hydra, was it? That was what he was fighting. Every time he cut off a head, more popped into his in-tray. Coming back from a holiday was a nightmare. And now they were giving him rocks to push up hills as well.”

Ian Rankin makes Rebus a literate man. The allusions to Greeks and Roman mythology are most satisfying. The multiplying cases akin to the monstrous Hydra, one of the labors of Hercules. And pushing rocks up hills. Poor Sisyphus, doomed to roll a boulder up a hill without ever reaching the summit before it rolled back downhill.

Yes. The filing cabinets filled. They were crammed. Up to a thousand cases at a time. My word for the job was "relentless."

The plot of the novel is slow to build. Carefully built. As young girls are kidnapped and murdered, Rebus is receiving cryptic letters. Each contains a knotted piece of string. A note saying the clues are everywhere. As the cases mount, the letters include little crosses tied with knotted string. Knots and Crosses. Rebus does not connect the letters to the investigation.

But he will. When the killer assaults his ex-wife and kidnaps his own daughter, Samantha. All the letters to Rebus have been a taunt.

The initial letters of the previous victims' name spell out Samantha. Suddenly the case is intensely personal. And the killer has murdered each child by strangulation. A nasty death. Strangulation with a garotte. There are the knots. The crosses signify the killer intends to crucify Rebus.

No slow pace now. But a careful race against the clock to the finish. When the killer calls to say Samantha will die tonight.

What secret lies hidden in John Rebus' past that does not allow him to connect the dots to realize who the killer is?

This is a fine series debut. It far exceeds the ordinary police procedural. And it's good to know that the Rebus novels have extended to twenty-four volumes. I have some fine reading ahead of me. I wonder if Rebus will continue to have me staring in the mirror.

Profile Image for Brenda.
725 reviews146 followers
February 4, 2019
This is my first time reading a book by Ian Rankin. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it definitely delivered. It’s not so much a police procedural as it is a character study.

John Rebus is a Detective Sergeant in Edinburgh. He is a complex character, and the book provides an in-depth portrayal of him. We see how he fits into his environment at home and at work, how he relates to family, friends, and co-workers, and how his past haunts him. There is a period of time that Rebus keeps stored in a box in the back of his mind. Every once in a while, he has to forcefully stuff those memories back into that box. After Rebus receives some anonymous notes and several murders later, he has to face the facts in those memories.

A secondary character is a journalist named Jim Stevens. He adds two and two and comes up with five. Not much is told about this character, so I don’t know why the Epilogue is about him.

Physically, this book is shorter, narrower, and thinner than most books I read, but it sure packs a lot of story into its pages. The book is open-ended, which means I must read the next book very soon.
Profile Image for Lewis Weinstein.
Author 10 books511 followers
June 8, 2015
Many detective stories start out with a bang. Something dramatic happens. "Knots and Crosses," Rankin's first Rebus novel, and maybe his first novel altogether, is not that way. After 50+ pages, still not much had happened.

Most detective novels alternate scenes of tension and scenes of relief. Not this one. When the tension finally starts to build, it continues on an unrelenting screaming frightening path to the end of the story.

I guess you can tell I enjoyed the read. That's all I'm going to say since I don't want to reveal the plot.
Profile Image for Labijose.
987 reviews462 followers
February 24, 2018
Aún tenía pendiente la primera entrega de John Rebus, publicada en 1987, y eso que va ya por la número 21 hasta la fecha. He cumplido esa deuda, y me alegro de haberlo leído. Te da una idea general del personaje, de su traumática experiencia militar, y de su desordenada vida social. Es un detective a lo Harry Bosch, lo cual en mi caso hace que me sienta inmediatamente atraído hacia sus vivencias.
No me ha defraudado en absoluto esta primera entrega. Al contrario, ha llenado algunos huecos personales que no tenía del todo claros, y lo hace con una trama absorbente, muy bien narrada y concluida. El Edimburgo que nos muestra Rebus no es la ciudad turística y acogedora a la que estamos acostumbrados, y eso denota que conoce el terreno por el que se mueve. Ian Rankin tiene su fama ganada a pulso, y a mí me tiene ganado como lector incondicional.
Profile Image for Lee Broderick.
Author 4 books70 followers
May 31, 2014
I was a little disappointed by this book. Ian Rankin's Rebus novels have been widely praised as literary detective fiction. In the introduction to my edition he acknowledges some surprise at this and I agree with him. This was an uncomplicated, character-driven noir with a protagonist that I couldn't care less about.

Perhaps the author's writing improves with later books but here I felt like I was being kept very much at arms length from the narrative. When the plot's so simple (in one of the early chapters the killer becomes exasperated that Rebus hasn't identified him yet and we, the readers, can do nothing but nod and despondently shout 'yes, why haven't you?' as if our hero is PC Plod rather than a highly trained detective) it's essential that we should care about the characters. Instead, this is like watching someone from a car window - a moment of mild interest as you speed past their lives, quickly to be forgotten.
Profile Image for Brenda.
4,228 reviews2,728 followers
August 14, 2020
Detective John Rebus was trying to catch the killer of young girls – he would abduct them and not long after, the body of the girl would be found, brutally murdered, but never sexually assaulted. Rebus was also receiving strange and bizarre notes that he had no clue about. He wondered if it was his ex-wife messing around but wasn’t to realise it had everything to do with him and a past he no longer remembered.

Rebus had once been in the elite SAS prior to becoming a police officer. He tried to stop his nightmares by drinking whiskey and smoking. Of course, that didn’t work. His marriage was broken, but at least he had a daughter whom he loved dearly. Would Rebus and his team find the killer before it was too late?

Knots & Crosses is the 1st in the Inspector Rebus series by Ian Rankin and although it’s dated (originally published 1987) and the police spend a lot of their time in bars drinking whiskey and smoking, not eating or sleeping, the mystery was intriguing with the reveal well done. Rebus is a flawed character, but his past has a lot to do with that. Recommended.
Profile Image for Ellen.
972 reviews129 followers
August 26, 2017
Knots and Crosses (Inspector Rebus, #1) by Ian Rankin.

This was my first taste of Inspector Rebus, but it most definitely won't be my last!

Rebus is not an unusual character. He has his strong points which I found to be in enduring until the case is solved. At the same time he's a vulnerable person with weak points. Weak points caused by something in the past he's trying desperately to forget or at least cram into a closet and lock it shut forever.
The first little girl goes missing and later is found murdered. It's about the same time Rebus receives a strange letter with an even stranger object inside. There's no rhyme or reason to it but as this killer continues his rampage another child goes missing and Rebus receives yet another letter.

Gill Templer is an on the ball, no nonsense type of woman. She's working alongside Rebus on this case and becoming more involved in his personal life as the relationship builds. Also in Rebus's life is his brother Michael. Something is troubling this very affluent baby brother but the truth may tear them apart or bring them closer than ever.

All I can say about this book is WOW! This book is nothing short of a masterpiece in mystery and written by another Scot! I'm hooked and onto another in the Inspector Rebus series.
Profile Image for Clarice.
176 reviews11 followers
April 13, 2015
The first problem with this book is the unlikable main character. Rebus is supposed to be suffering from PTSD because of trauma he experienced during his Special Services training. That's right. He was so damaged during TRAINING that he never actually served in Special Services, but he gets all kinds of respect from his fellow cops because of his Special Services background - which is pretty weird since the symptoms of his PTSD makes him a pretty lousy cop. And, oh yeah, another symptom is that he blacks out during sex and is either crying when he regains consciousness, or finds himself choking his partner. I don't need (or want) to learn those details which don't add to the story-line and certainly don't help make Rebus a more likable or even more sympathetic character.

In addition to an unlikable main character, the supporting characters - coworkers, family and victims - were woefully underdeveloped. The premise of this murder-mystery was so unlikely and poorly presented. The story-line seemed choppy and was plagued with ineffective "flash backs".

It was very frustrating to learn the identity of the serial killer when you realize Rebus should have figured it out much sooner and been able to save more victims - if not for his pesky PTSD.

Michael Page did an adequate job during the narrative portions of the story, but when he read the dialogue, he gave the characters very cartoonish voices.

Profile Image for Karl.
3,258 reviews277 followers
August 7, 2018
"Knots and Crosses" was first published in 1987 and is a crime novel. It is the first of the Inspector Rebus novels. It was written while Rankin was a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh.

This edition of the book was given out as part of a subscription, one of a series of 'Banned Books' produced exclusively for the Independent newspaper and is book 20 in the series done to try and promote reading.
Profile Image for Michael Robotham.
Author 39 books5,907 followers
April 26, 2017
Wonderful to go back and discover the beginnings of John Rebus. I was incredibly impressed with Ian Rankin's writings, particularly given that he was only 25 years old when he wrote Knots and Crosses. The plotting is a little clumsy and Rankin has become much more sophisticated in this area. Here, he was learning. He became a master.
Profile Image for Paul Weiss.
1,252 reviews235 followers
May 2, 2023
Wherein we learn of the birthright of Inspector John Rebus!

Harry Bosch and John Rebus … twins separated at birth perhaps? Noir detectives, plenty of psychological baggage coming along for the ride, somewhat cavalier attitudes towards fellow cops and authority figures, and dark, military backgrounds that provide the footing for many of the decisions that each man makes in their capacities as homicide detectives. As LA is to Harry Bosch, Edinburgh is to John Rebus. An interesting set-up to be sure but while the serial killer plot in KNOTS & CROSSES, Rebus’ debut appearance in an overly crowded genre, clears the “workmanlike” bar, it never comes close to approaching a level that readers might characterize as “gripping” or “compelling”. It’s enough to prompt me to read another novel in the series but I’m definitely not tripping over myself to dash out to the book store.

Paul Weiss
Profile Image for Emily.
253 reviews31 followers
October 15, 2008
I will admit to wanting to read this book in part because I heard the author on NPR about a year ago and he is Scottish and I have a big weakness for Scottish accents. But! In my defense, I was actually intrigued by what he said (and not just how he said it!).

Having finally read the book, I have to say, it was a great read. I realized about a third of the way through that it has been a long time since I've read both an apt and original metaphor and this was chock full of them. Being his first novel ever, there are some clunky bits and needless side stories but you can forgive those moments since it is so fun to read cop talk in a Scottish accent! All in all, I find the best detective fiction novels are ones you feel compelled to skip meals and hours of sleep to read and I couldn't put it down.
Profile Image for Geles.
175 reviews32 followers
October 30, 2020
Me estreno con esta serie que era una de mis eternas pendientes, junto con la de Kay Scarpetta de Patricia Cornwell.
Los seguidores de Rankin dicen que esta no es su mejor novela, pero que hay que leerla para entender al personaje.
Como es la primera que leo del autor solo os puedo decir que la trama es sencilla, con un ritmo pausado pero constante y sin grandes giros. La investigación parece quedar en segundo plano, quizá porque al ser la primera entrega de la serie el autor se ha centrado más en presentarnos al protagonista y su entorno.
La verdad es que no me ha desagradado, así que seguiré con la saga a ver como evoluciona.
Profile Image for Erato.
34 reviews23 followers
June 4, 2016
3/5 που γίνονται 4 μονο και μονο γιατι βλεπουμε κ μαθαίνουμε για τον γερό-Ρεμπους (πια) στα νιάτα του.
* Καμία φορά εχει πλάκα να παίρνεις τη σειρα αντίστροφα :)
Profile Image for John.
1,201 reviews95 followers
July 28, 2022
The first of the Rebus novels. Raw and unfinished in places but still a gripping tale of when librarians go bad. Rebus is divorced, alcoholic, chain smoking detective in the city of Edinburgh. A madman is murdering little girls and Rebus is part of the investigation.

The character of Rebus is grim, ex-SAS with blocked memories which are eventually unlocked by his hypnotist brother Michael. We relive his indoctrination and his falling out with Reeves his brother in arms. The motive for the murders is as insane as the perpetrator. A good first novel which makes me want to read more of Rebus cases.
Profile Image for Aristotle.
646 reviews72 followers
October 19, 2020
Set in Edinburgh Scotland less a police procedural more a therapy session.
Written in 1987, typewriters and post-its. No internet or cell phones.
Book #1 Inspector Rebus, #23 came out this year.

We are introduced to John Rebus a detective with a whole lotta baggage.
This was more about Rebus's PTSD and his personal life.
The dialogue was awkward at times just like John Rebus is with women.
'He would awake crying some nights, and sometimes would weep as he made love.' -John
Like i said awkward.
A good two day read. 3 1/2 stars rounded up because of the longevity of the series.
Profile Image for aPriL does feral sometimes .
1,931 reviews438 followers
August 9, 2016
'Knots and Crosses' is an entertaining psychological/police procedural. It also is book one, first published in 1987, in the long-running Inspector Rebus series. I highly recommend it.

Detective Sergeant John Rebus works in Edinburgh, Scotland with a love/hate obsession for his job with the police. Rebus wants to quit drinking and smoking, too, but so far he has failed in those goals. He certainly is a man of faults, and some might think him becoming burned out. But one thing he still possesses - a sense of needing to rescue those made victims.

Things haven't been good for John Rebus since his SAS days - he had joined to prove his worth to his unloving, indifferent father who did love his other son, Michael, much more than John. John and Michael now have a complicated relationship, and John hasn't visited his married brother and his family in five years. Rhona, John's ex-wife, finally done with John after trying to compete with his police career of fifteen years, which he had begun after resigning from the SAS, has left their marriage, taking their daughter, 12-year-old Samantha, with her. John adores his daughter and he still loves his brother, despite the thicket of unspoken feelings between them.

Jim Stevens, newspaper reporter, is certain he is on the trail of a huge police corruption story. It began when he followed a local drug dealer - Michael Rebus. Michael often appears on stage and TV as a famous hypnotist, but he also seems to have a sideline of selling drugs. During his investigation of Michael, he uncovered the surprise sibling relationship between John and Michael! Obviously, the two must have cooked up a system of underground mutual support and coverup of their drug trade. Stevens is determined to bring both of them down.

Jack Morton and John Rebus are assigned the boring task of looking through files and photos of the local pedophiles, then next the shoe-leather work of going door-to-door. It is dull, but necessary. Two young girls were abducted separately, both gone missing for a few days, then were found dead, strangled. The case is already under his skin, constantly on his mind, when he gets sudden word from the police - Rhona was attacked, and Samantha taken. There is no doubt it is the guy who took the other two girls - the 'Edinburgh Strangler'.

Now John has a new set of nightmares added to his dreams, as if the SAS memories weren't foul enough. He had intentionally pushed away the horror of what happened in the cells of the SAS, but he must bring back to the surface what he has tried to bury through religion, drink and the job. To save his daughter, he must remember....
Profile Image for Alex Cantone.
Author 3 books35 followers
January 15, 2022
It was everywhere, crime. It was the life-force and the blood and balls of life: to cheat, to edge, to take that body-swerve at authority, to kill. The higher up you climbed into crime, the more subtly you began to move back towards legitimacy, until a handful of lawyers could crack open your system, and they were always affordable, always on hand to be bribed.

My introduction to the dour Scottish detective was through the TV series starring John Hannay. From there it was a natural progression to the more recently-published Ian Rankin books, where an older John Rebus is working with DI Siobhan Clarke and his main adversary is Edinburgh crime figure, Big Ger Cafferty. So it was something of a revelation to source the first in the series, published back in 1987.

We meet a cynical DS John Rebus, aged thirty-seven, divorced from Rhona, father to twelve-year-old Samantha, working long hours, haphazard meals, smoking too many cigarettes and downing whisky in triples (sound familiar?), as he attends his father’s grave in Fife on the anniversary of his death and catches his younger brother Michael, who performs at various venues as a hypnotist, “at a bad time”.

Rebus is assigned to a taskforce to capture a man the press calls “the Edinburgh Strangler”, who abducts and kills young girls, though without assaulting them sexually. He is also the recipient of envelopes, hand delivered, with cryptic messages and symbols – something he vaguely recognises from his past – within his repressed memories of the army.

More victims, a snooping journalist, a love interest and the endless round of doorknocking, checking vehicles, witnesses, crank callers – but when (predictably) his own daughter is taken, Rebus must face his past.

Much of the story follows the familiar path the reader expects, though this early in the series everything is a touch ragged. The accompanying notes suggests that the Rebus character was slow to take off and struggling author Rankin thought of killing him off. Thankfully, for millions of readers and viewers of the TV series, he didn’t.

Would I have read on, had this been my first Rebus book? The answer is yes. Aside from the character, police procedural and noir ‘feel’, Rankin captures the underbelly of the postcard city, and its weather.

Edinburgh rain was like a judgement. It soaked into the bones, into the structures of the buildings, into the memories of the tourists. It lingered for days, splashing up from puddles by the roadside, breaking up marriages, chilling, killing, omnipresent.

Verdict: a winner.
Profile Image for Susan.
337 reviews24 followers
September 7, 2016
I've seen Ian Rankin books all over airports, bookstores, libraries, best seller lists since I was first out of college and have never picked one up. Probably for the same reason I never picked up a Lawrence Block book. Big mistake, but now I have many more in the Detective John Rebus series left to read. I like Rankin's style, very moody and somewhat dark, although other reviews I've read says he lightens up quite a bit in later novels. Considering this series is still going strong almost 30 years in, it makes sense. If poor Rebus got any more depressed than he was here I'd be worried. For a tough guy, he spends a lot of this book in tears. I hope he's turned the corner in the book two! Will definitely be reading more of Mr. Rankin soon.
Profile Image for Toby.
836 reviews331 followers
August 26, 2012
Soft-boiled crime fiction? Hard-boiled light? Lightly fried with a twist of tarragon?

As the debut of Ian Rankin's Rebus this is a fine book filled with promise.

Rebus is a drunk divorcee formerly of the SAS and now a DS in the Edinburgh police force. There's somebody abducting and killing children and there's no pattern that anyone can see. So far, so cliche. Where Rankin differs from all those other generic modern police procedurals that are oh so popular with the masses is that he doesn't seem to care about the investigation or the procedure. (I'm told that in later books he becomes much more of a regular cop however.)

Right from the start Rankin creates a bleak introspective tone for the novel and his protagonist quite clearly borrowed from Derek Raymond's Factory series, complete with the same Detective Sergeant rank as Raymond's anonymous cop and the same attitude towards his superiors/promotion. The fact that Rebus solves brutal murders from the grittiest sides of Edinburgh, the dark heart of contemporary Britain which lurks behind the elegant and historic facade was said of Raymond multiple times.

The differences are what makes this a much weaker novel than it might have been. Compared to other popular crime fiction this might be a dark proposition but to me it just feels like Rankin was either holding back on the darkness or has simply written a book that can be classed as "Factory-light." It's not just Rebus that suffers in comparison, the supporting cast are barely worth a mention, cut from the flimsiest of cardboard and relying on cliche, when the story is told from their point of view I lost interest and it doesn't really add anything to the novel except a bigger word count. There's a backstory that's worked in to the investigation in a clever way but it wasn't interesting or new in itself and the denouement was weak. Oh yeah his use of the "Jekyll & Hyde" device was a pitiful attempt at a red herring, just because one character thinks it with no evidence to back it up (and then repeat it every 30 pages or so) it doesn't mean that an intelligent reader is going to fall for it.

Those complaints aside it was an enjoyable and easy read, better than I expected and ended in a way that didn't require 17 more books from its author on the subject. I'll probably give the second one a go at some point as it was only $1 but I fear it will go downhill fast or at the most stay at the same mildly interesting level.
Profile Image for Simona B.
898 reviews3,009 followers
November 30, 2017

I most surely did not expect to be so pleasantly surprised by this book. Ian Rankin shows, throughout the novel, an uncanny ability to lift the veil of one's everyday thoughts and perceptions to reveal a somewhat twisted reality lying underneath, like a lurking beast of prey, and he does it subtly enugh, thoughtfully enoough, to convince me he is no mere hireling. So are you thinking to dive into Knots and Crosses and find just the umpteenth copy-and-paste thriller novel? Forget that.

With this, I don't mean that the book is cliché-free. I wasn't completely satisfied with the ending and with the solution of the mystery, for one thing, and I (but this is simply a matter of personal taste) could have done without the hypnosis. For these and a few more reasons, the well my enthusiasm gradually but inexorably dried up as I was approaching the last page. I loved Rebus's characterization almost in its entirety, but for once a well-rounded main character wasn't exactly strong enough to hold up the whole novel, for me.

All in all, recommended.
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