How to Read Ian Rankin Books in Order | The Ultimate Guide

Ian Rankin Books in Order

Looking for a list of Ian Rankin books in order? We’re here to help with all of his books, short stories, plays, and non-fiction works.

His most well-known work is the Inspector Rebus series, which is an acclaimed series of detective novels. The novels mostly take place in and around Edinburgh, Scotland. The city is so vividly evoked that critics have referred to it as almost another character in the books.  

The Inspector Rebus books have been translated into more than 20 languages and have sold more than 20 million copies all over the world. There was also a successful TV adaptation, Rebus, between 2000-2007.

Who is Ian Rankin?

Ian Rankin is probably Scotland’s best-selling crime novelist and creator of the Inspector Rebus crime series that falls into the Scottish tartan noir genre. He also writes the Malcolm Fox series. 

Rankin was born on April 28, 1960 in Cardenden, Fife, Scotland. His father owned a grocery shop, and his mother was employed in a school canteen. He studied at Beath High School, in Cowdenbeath, Fife.

He also studied literature at the University of Edinburgh and graduated in 1982. While Rankin worked on a doctorate, he did not complete it. He has also taught at university and is involved with the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, one of Britain’s oldest literary prizes. 

Before he became a full-time novelist, some of his varied jobs include stints as a grape picker, a swineherd, an alcohol researcher, working in taxes, a hi-fi journalist, and a college secretary.

He was even the vocalist of a Fife punk band The Dancing Pigs. Rankin describes himself as a “frustrated musician” and music still plays a huge part in his life. 

Who is Inspector John Rebus?

Detective Inspector John Rebus is the protagonist of the compelling Inspector Rebus series. He is a fairly typical tartan noir anti-hero. Meaning that he is tough, hard-bitten, cynical, and somewhat world-weary.

Having once served in Britain’s elite SAS, Rebus is now a tough Edinburgh cop who works from the St. Leonard’s Police Station in Edinburgh. His work often takes him into the dangerous criminal underworld of contemporary Scotland. 

While he is divorced, his ex-wife Rhona and his daughter, Samantha, often appear in the books. Starting as a detective sergeant, Rebus was promoted to detective inspector and has turned down another promotion at least once. 

Rebus is a natural leader. His gruff exterior and driving will to succeed belie a good heart, though he tends to see things in black or white.

He likes alcohol, smokes heavily, identifies with the underdog, is stubborn, distrusts authority, and is rather intimidating. He loves books and music, has a big record collection, drives a Saab 900, and is an outsider and loner. 

And many readers love him!

Ian Rankin Books in Order of Publication

Below is a list of all the Ian Rankin books in order.

John Rebus Books in Order

  1. Knots and Crosses (1987)
  2. Hide and Seek (1991)
  3. Tooth and Nail (1992)
  4. Strip Jack (1992)
  5. The Black Book (1993)
  6. Mortal Causes (1994)
  7. Let It Bleed (1996)
  8. Black and Blue (1997)
  9. The Hanging Garden (1998)
  10. Dead Souls (1999)
  11. Set in Darkness (2000)
  12. The Falls (2001)
  13. Resurrection Men (2002)
  14. A Question of Blood (2003)
  15. Fleshmarket Alley (2004)
  16. The Naming of the Dead (2006)
  17. Exit Music (2007)
  18. Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012)
  19. Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013)
  20. The Beat Goes On: The Complete Rebus Short Stories (2014)
  21. Even Dogs in the Wild (2015)
  22. Rather Be the Devil (2016)
  23. In a House of Lies (2018)
  24. A Song for the Dark Times (2020)

Jack Harvey Books

  1. Witch Hunt (1993)
  2. Blood Hunt (1995)
  3. Bleeding Hearts (2001)

Malcolm Fox Books

  1. The Complaints (2009)
  2. The Impossible Dead (2011)

Ian Rankin Books in Order – Standalone Novels

  1. The Flood (1986)
  2. Watchman (1988)
  3. Westwind (1991)
  4. Doors Open (2008)

Short Stories/Novellas

  1. A Cool Head (2009)
  2. Meet and Greet (2016)

Plays

  1. Dark Road (2014)

Ian Rankin Books in Order – Short Story Collections

  1. Beggars Banquet (2002)

Ian Rankin Books in Order – Non-Fiction Books

  1. Rebus’s Scotland (2005)

Do I need to read the Ian Rankin books in order?

You can enjoy Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus books as standalones, but as the novels feature several returning characters, such as “Big Ger” Cafferty and Rebus’s protégé, Siobhan Clarke, reading them in order will give you a better grasp of how the books progress and build on each other.

It will also enable you to understand Rebus, his history, motivations, and relationships much better. 

Summary of John Rebus Books in Order

In this section, we will take a closer look at the Ian Rankin books in order. Specifically, we’ll focus on the Inspector Rebus series. The summaries below will help you learn a little more about the books in the series.

Use them to see if these books are for you, or to refresh yourself on what the previous books were about. If you are brand new to this series, some of these summaries will contain spoilers for previous books.


Knots and Crosses Ian Rankin Books in Order

1. Knots and Crosses

It is 1985, and Edinburgh is shocked by the abduction and strangling of two young girls. John Rebus is investigating, but is he compromised by a blood tie to the perpetrator and his traumatic past in the SAS? Then two more girls disappear before Rebus’s ex-wife is attacked and his own daughter is abducted.

Rebus connects the murders to his past and is suspended from duty because of personal involvement. But isn’t he the man who has all the pieces of the puzzle in his head?


Hide and Seek Ian Rankin

2. Hide and Seek

In a derelict housing development, a junkie lies dead, seemingly from an overdose. Around his body are signs of Satanic rituals. Inspector Rebus could write off the death as an accident, but he believes otherwise. 

So he begins to chip away at the respectable everyday Edinburgh facade to expose the mire of cruelty, indifference, deceit, and treachery lurking beneath it. Is Rebus the only one who cares about a death that looks more like murder with every passing day?


Tooth and Nail John Rebus Books in Order

3. Tooth and Nail

Rebus travels down to London to help police catch a serial killer with a sickening MO. There he finds himself teamed with London cop George Flight, whom he doesn’t quite trust.  

Rebus is going to have to confront racial prejudice as well as deal with the desecrations of a deranged maniac. When Rebus receives the serial killer profile of the Wolfman by a beautiful psychologist, it seems too good an opportunity to miss. But in welcoming an ally, has he given his adversaries a way of attacking him? 


Strip Jack John Rebus

4. Strip Jack

Highly respected young MP Gregor Jack is caught in a seemingly random police raid on a brothel. When his volatile and beautiful wife Elizabeth suddenly disappears and two bodies are found, suspicion lands on well-known local actor, Rab Kinnoull. Then Elizabeth’s brutalized body is found.  

Is there a link to Andrew MacMillan, locked up in a psychiatric facility after murdering his wife years before? And who is setting up Gregor Jack to strip him of his good name and political reputation? Might his life even be in danger?  


The Black Book Ian Rankin Books in Order

5. The Black Book

Rebus’s colleague, Brian Holmes, is in a coma after an attack in the car park of the Elvis-themed Heartbreak Café. Five years earlier an unexplained fire reduced Edinburgh’s sleazy Central Hotel to ashes. Unsolved and on the backburner, the case comes to life again when a burned body with a bullet in its head is discovered in the ruins. 

Inspector Rebus suspects there are clues to the old case in Brian Holmes’s cryptic black notebook. But is he ready for the unspeakable secrets he’ll have to expose to get to the truth?


Mortal Causes Ian Rankin

6. Mortal Causes

During the Edinburgh Festival, a young man is brutally killed and left in Mary King’s Close, one of Edinburgh’s ancient subterranean streets. It turns out the young man is the son of infamous crime boss “Big Ger” Cafferty.

The body also has a tattoo of the Sword and Shield emblem. A mark of a Scottish Nationalist movement long thought to be defunct.

Does this mean there’s an extremist group in Edinburgh linked to the IRA and organized crime? And is there a sinister meaning to the joke about a mustached squid that goes into a restaurant that Rebus keeps hearing bits of? 

John Rebus has to accept that there is a real danger of a terrorist atrocity occurring in Edinburgh while it is teeming with tourists there for the Festival.


Let it Bleed John Rebus

7. Let it Bleed 

Two down-if-not-quite-out kids dive off the towering Firth of Forth bridge after a car chase which injured Rebus. Then a terminally ill ex-con kills himself too dramatically to convince Rebus, so he starts investigating. 

He uncovers connections to important people. And there are even more highly-placed people who would prefer that Rebus allow sleeping dogs to continue their rest undisturbed. But Rebus wants justice, and does not believe that he has much to lose… 

This novel bears the same name as the 1969 song by The Rolling Stones.


Black and Blue John Rebus Books in Order

8. Black and Blue

Bible John terrorized Glasgow in the 60s and 70s. He murdered three women and was never caught. And now a copycat is at work “Bible Johnny” kills to usurp his namesake’s fame.

Inspector John Rebus would be the man to investigate, but after a confrontation with an unscrupulous senior officer, he’s busy on the beat of one of Edinburgh’s most lawless suburbs.  

His investigation of the murder of oilman Allan Mitchelson takes him to the oil rigs of Aberdeen, and right into the Bible Johnny media frenzy. Everything is now ramped up and Rebus must tread very carefully indeed, because his career or even his life could be at stake…  


The Hanging Garden Ian Rankin Books in Order

9. The Hanging Garden

This riveting novel deals with the Bosnian refugee/prostitution problem, drugs, and the pursuit of a possible Nazi war criminal.

When Rebus rescues a Bosnian girl who has been forced into prostitution, he again breaks the golden rule of policing never get personally involved. In addition to that, Rebus’s daughter Sammy is the victim of a hit-and-run and is in a coma. 

Rebus is so desperate to find the driver, he even turns to incarcerated crime boss Big Ger Cafferty, who is still running things even from behind bars. And Big Ger is willing to help, but what will he want in return? Help with Tommy Telford who is encroaching on his turf? A mob war seems likely as Rebus gets ever more entangled.  


Dead Souls Ian Rankin

10. Dead Souls

Hard-drinking and tenacious Detective John Rebus returns to work only to confront a colleague’s suicide, a missing child, pedophiles, and a serial killer. Motivated by experience and instinct, he looks for connections despite official skepticism.

He still has to cope with the prospect that his daughter Sammy might never walk again. Trying to save himself as well, Rebus trawls through desperate slums and the posh dwellings of Edinburgh’s wealthy. He exposes a web of crime, corruption, and betrayal.


Set in Darkness John Rebus

11. Set in Darkness

The first Scottish parliament in 300 years is about to convene and Queensbury House, the seat of power, sits in the middle of John Rebus’s turf.

Then three things happen to comprehensively rock the boat. A long-dead body is found in a Queensbury House fireplace. A homeless man, with a suitcase full of money, throws himself off a bridge. Then, a promising politician is murdered. 

The links between the three deaths will bring Rebus to a face-off with one of Edinburgh’s most infamous criminals a man he thought he’d put behind bars for life.


The Falls John Rebus Books in Order

12. The Falls

A young female student goes missing near Rebus’s hometown of Edinburgh, Scotland. Her rich and powerful father makes sure Rebus is part of the huge investigation he sets in motion to find her. Rebus searches desperately for the girl’s, and his own, salvation.

But what is the significance of a carved wooden doll in a tiny casket? Is there a connection between that and the missing girl’s possible involvement in an alarming role-playing game on the internet?

With the help of tech-savvy DC Siobhan Clarke, Rebus starts investigating, but is their search potentially exposing Siobhan to the same risks as the missing girl? And will Rebus be able to make sense of the bewildering mass of lies, secrets, and deceit that they turn up? 


Resurrection Men Ian Rankin Books in Order

13. Resurrection Men

Throwing a cup of tea at DCS Gill Templer proves a step too far and Inspector John Rebus is suspended from the murder inquiry he was working on. In what is very much a last chance, he must go to the Scottish Police College for retraining.

Whist there, Rebus being Rebus, becomes part of a secret mission to find evidence of a drug heist carried out by three colleagues. 

But the group of “resurrection men” have also been given an unsolved murder, that may well have been a result of a mistake Rebus made. Has Rebus been set up to dig his own grave, or are his fellow resurrection men as ruthless as he’s beginning to suspect? 


A Question of Blood Ian Rankin

14. A Question of Blood

At a prestigious boarding school one schoolboy is injured and two 17-year-old students are apparently killed by a reclusive ex-army loner, who then shoots himself. But Rebus smells a rat.

However, Rebus is in potential trouble himself. He’s just been released from hospital with badly burned hands. Is it pure coincidence that the petty criminal who’d been stalking DS Siobhan Clarke died in a fire on the very night Rebus hurt his hands? 

The case seems cut-and-dry, but Rebus gets on the wrong side of the surviving schoolboy’s father. The father is a pugnacious local MP who loathes the police and is attempting to make political coin out of the incident. But then Rebus officially becomes a suspect in the murder of DS Siobhan Clarke’s stalker. 


Fleshmarket Close John Rebus

15. Fleshmarket Close

An illegal immigrant dies in an Edinburgh housing scheme called Knoxland. Is it merely a hate-fuelled racist attack, or is there something more to it? Rebus starts looking into it, but there are complications. His old police station has shut down, and the powers-that-be would much rather Rebus retired.

But Rebus is nothing if not stubborn and tenacious, so he investigates. He visits an asylum seekers’ detention center and delves into the murky depths of Edinburgh’s criminal underworld.

Meanwhile, DS Siobhan Clarke has problems of her own. When a teenager disappears, Siobhan begins helping the distraught family. But this takes her dangerously close to the web of a convicted rapist…


Conclusion

In books that are persuasively well-written and which effortlessly transport the reader to Rankin’s Edinburgh, John Rebus stands as one of the most compelling literary characters of the detective genre. His failings make him human and believable, while his strengths make him a formidable force.

Looking for more books in order?

Check out this list of Harry Bosch Books in Order.

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