Reading the Inspector John Rebus books in order will introduce you to the maverick detective that patrols the underbelly of Edinburgh, Scotland. These books are the epitome of Tartan Noir, a subgenre of crime fiction that embodies Scottish culture.
In addition to being riveting mysteries, the Inspector Rebus books in order also tell a story of contrasts. The setting of Edinburgh almost becomes a character itself. Whether you’ve already read one and want to read more, or are discovering these books for the first time, keep reading to find out how to read the Rebus books in order.
Who is Ian Rankin?
The author behind these classic Tartan Noir reads is Ian Rankin. A Scotsman himself, Rankin grew up in the Kingdom of Fife before attending the University of Edinburgh for his undergrad, He began a PhD on Scottish literature; however, he did not complete it.
While he had written for many years, including when he should have been studying, Rankin never intended to create a name for himself within the genre of crime thrillers. Instead, he thought his books more in line with traditional Scottish literature. Hence, his high accolades of Tartan Noir are perfect.
His first ever novel was never published and is still sitting in a drawer, but his debut publication was The Flood in 1986. The book that followed the next year was his first Rebus book: Knots and Crosses.
If you would like to learn more about everything Rankin has written, you can check out this article about the Ian Rankin books in order.
In his Rebus books, Rankin leverages his English literature background in the way he presents the city of Edinburgh almost as a character itself. He has said he used Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as a template for the first Rebus book, delving deep into a city of contrasts.
Rankin contrasts the splendor and squalor of the city, the old town and new town, the have and have-nots. This culminates in a strikingly realistic modern depiction of Edinburgh and Scotland, while still teeming with mystery and intrigue as Rebus pursues his latest case.
About the Inspector John Rebus Books
Ian Rankin’s Inspector John Rebus books take place in contemporary Edinburgh and the setting has evolved with the passage of time. Therefore, in reading all the Rebus books in order, readers get a wonderful snapshot of Edinburgh and policing in the 1980s compared to the 2020s. So much has taken place during the last 40 years, and those changes are tangible in Rankin’s writing.
With the introduction of characters throughout the series Rankin is able to contrast the character of John Rebus against his contemporaries. Rebus is very much the epitome of old-school policing. He prefers the more manual labor of policing, which is a point of tension and conflict with other, younger members of the force.
Rebus is also a bit of a lone wolf and distrusts authority. He is tough, hard-bitten, cynical, and somewhat world-weary. He is a morally gray character, blurring the lines between right and wrong. With his more negative traits he is something of an anti-hero, but he is a fan favorite with readers.
Once again pulling in themes of dichotomy, Rankin contrasts the old-school outlook and demeanor of Rebus with that of his younger colleagues, namely Siobhan Clarke. The differences are even emphasized through music, which plays a large part of the Inspector Rebus books in order.
The music Rebus listens to reveals his age, class, and personality with mid-period Rolling Stones or Leonard Cohen. The introduction of Siobhan allowed Rankin to introduce more of his favorite music like the Cocteau Twins or Belle and Sebastian.
Some of the Rebus book titles — such as Black and Blue, Let it Bleed, and Dead Souls — are taken from songs and albums. Rankin’s former band, The Dancing Pigs, even gets a mention in Black and Blue.
Inspector Rebus Books in Order
On his website Ian Rankin explains that it is not necessary to read the Inspector Rebus books in order as each can be read as a standalone. However, if you are interested in character development, then reading the Rebus books in order of publication is recommended.
This will allow you to better understand the returning characters that feature in multiple books, and their relationship with Rebus. As well, the series does progress in a linear fashion, therefore each book will build upon its predecessor.
Finally, the title with an asterisk below is a crossover book with Rankin’s Malcolm Fox series.
- Knots and Crosses (1987)
- Hide and Seek (1991)
- Tooth and Nail (1992)
- Strip Jack (1992)
- The Black Book (1993)
- Mortal Causes (1994)
- Let It Bleed (1996)
- Black and Blue (1997)
- The Hanging Garden (1998)
- Dead Souls (1999)
- Set in Darkness (2000)
- The Falls (2001)
- Resurrection Men (2002)
- A Question of Blood (2003)
- Fleshmarket Alley (2004)
- The Naming of the Dead (2006)
- Exit Music (2007)
- Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012)
- Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013) *
- The Beat Goes On: The Complete Rebus Short Stories (2014)
- Even Dogs in the Wild (2015)
- Rather Be the Devil (2016)
- In a House of Lies (2018)
- A Song for the Dark Times (2020)
- A Heart Full of Headstones (Expected: October 18, 2022)
Other Inspector Rebus Works in Order
While the above list features all the full-length Inspector Rebus books in order, Ian Rankin has also written other titles featuring John Rebus.
- Death is Not the End (1998) (Out of Print)
- Beggar’s Banquet (1998) (Short Story Collection)
- A Good Hanging and Other Stories (2003) (Short Story Collection)
- In the Nick of Time (2014) (Short Story with Peter James)
- The Beat Goes On (2014) (Short Story Collection)
- Rebus: Long Shadows (2019) (Play)
- John Rebus: A Mysterious Profile (2022)
Is there an Inspector Rebus TV show?
Yes, from 2000 until 2007 there was a popular Rebus adaptation. The show has four seasons and does have a major cast change-up after the second season, including in actors for the titular role.
John Hannah starred as John Rebus for the first two seasons, before Ken Stott took over the role. The show is loosely based on many of Ian Rankin’s Rebus books. While Hannah is younger than Rebus is in the books, the first two seasons are slightly more faithful to the books with a darker tone and edge.
A Summary of Inspector Rebus Books in Order
If you have never read these books before, there will be spoilers for character development in the below summaries. However, these summaries of the Inspector Rebus books in order will provide you with an better understanding of what to expect from these books.
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 connection 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 the personal involvement. But he might just be the only man who can solve this puzzle.
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 façade 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?
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?
4. Strip Jack
Highly-respected young MP Gregor Jack is caught in a seemingly random police raid on a brothel. Then his fiery and beautiful wife Elizabeth suddenly disappears, there is the discovery of two bodies, and a lunatic speaks up from his asylum… Jack’s reputation is in tatters.
Is there a link to Andrew MacMillan, locked up in a psychiatric facility after murdering his wife years before? And who is setting up Jack to strip him of his good name and political reputation? The glamour surrounding the popular young man begins to tarnish and Rebus wants to get to the bottom of things.
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?
6. Mortal Causes
During the Edinburgh Fringe 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.
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.
8. Black and Blue
Bible John terrorized Glasgow in the 1960s. 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…
9. The Hanging Garden
This riveting novel concerns Bosnian refugees, sex trafficking, 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.
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.
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.
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. The discovery of a long-dead body 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.
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?
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?
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 newly bandaged 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.
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…
Final thoughts on Inspector Rebus books in order
Whether you are brand new to the subgenre of Tartan Noir or a seasoned expert, reading the Inspector Rebus books in order is essential within the subgenre. The books are graphic and dark in the crimes they portray, and Ian Rankin will have you rooting for John Rebus despite his prickly demeanor.
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