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IV

So where did Rebus come from? Well, from my subconscious, obviously, from a young mans brain, filled with stories and strategies. But also from the books Id been reading, the city Id made my home, and the blood that had soaked into its pavements and roadways. Yet it still seems to me that he appeared as a bolt from the blue. Ive looked at photos of myself in my student room in Arden Street, and have pored over my diaries from the time, seeking clues. The notes I jotted down prior to starting the novel shed very little light. I saw the book as a metaphysical thriller but spent very little time delineating Rebuss character. I wanted the story to contain lots of puzzles and wordplay, wanted it to be a very visual piece, and decided it should be written in the third person: Dont need to go too far inside the main characters head. Rebus was to be a cipher rather than a three-dimensional human being. From a rereading of Knots and Crosses, I think its true to say that the reader feels more distanced from Rebus in that book than in any of the others that followed. There was a good reason for this: I wanted Rebus himself to exist as a potential suspect in peoples minds. Hence the momentary flashbacks, the hints of something awful in his past, and the locked room in his apartment. He also at one point almost strangles a woman who has invited him into her bed.

Nice.

Through sheer force of will, however, Rebus stuck around and grew into someone more fully formed, to the point where fans are now worried about his health and find when they meet me that I fall disappointingly short of Rebus himself. Im just not as damaged as he is, as complex, or as dangerous to be around. Im only the bloke who commits his stories to paper. What became obvious to me early on was that a detective makes for a terrific commentator on the world around him. He has access to the highest in the land and the lowest, the politicians and oligarchs, as well as the junkies and petty thieves. In writing books about Edinburgh, I could examine the city (and the nation of which it is capital once more) from top to bottom through Rebuss eyes. I was lucky too-there was no tradition of the crime novel in Scotland, so I could make my own path. And back then there were no crime novels set in contemporary Edinburgh, meaning that for a little while I had no competition.

Ive been lucky also in that Edinburgh and Scotland continue to change in interesting ways, giving me plenty of plots while delivering up their secrets and mysteries only very slowly. Ive been living in this city now for almost thirty years, on and off, and it continues to surprise me. Underground streets and chambers are still being discovered. Archaeological digs at the castle bring new truths to the surface. Exhibits long forgotten in the various museums turn out to have their own tales worth telling. As a subject, the city seems inexhaustible. This is, after all, a city of words. Where else in the world would you find the main railway station named after a novel (Waverley) and a vast edifice in the city center celebrating that works author (the Scott Monument)? Robert Louis Stevenson brought his own imagination to bear on his hometown. Arthur Conan Doyle was born here. Muriel Spark grew up here. Robert Burns made his name here. James M. Barrie was a student here. Not to mention the likes of Carlyle and Hume. Right up to J. K. Rowling, Irvine Welsh, and Alexander McCall Smith in the present day.

Rebus, too, is composed of words-millions of them-so you might think that by now Id have got to the heart of what makes him tick, but he continues to surprise me, which is perhaps only fitting for a man whose name means puzzle. For twenty years now, hes been living inside my head, but sometimes it feels as though Im the one living in his. When a psychoanalyst interviewed me at a book festival a while back, he wondered if Rebus represented the brother I never had, or maybe the life of adventure I was never going to allow myself to lead. Both my parents served in World War II (my father in the Far East). One of my two sisters married a Royal Air Force engineer and spent much of her life thereafter traveling the world. As a kid, I once wrote to the army asking for information on joining up. But I was resolutely bookish, and all my adventures took place inside my head.

Maybe the psychoanalyst had a point; maybe Rebus really is an extension of my own personality-doing all the dangerous stuff Id be too scared to do, breaking rules and conventions, getting into fights and scrapes, and even coming up against the occasional deadly force. Some commentators have decided that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a book about the creative process and the division between our rational mind and the darker fantasies we keep hidden from view. In which case, Rebus would be my Hyde, acting as a force of nature, saying the unsayable, doing things I could never bring myself to do-even though I could (and can) all too readily imagine myself doing them.

Sir Winston Churchill once called Russia a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Ive found the same to be true of Scotland and Edinburgh.

And of Detective Inspector John Rebus.


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