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Ian Rankin: My readers are more worried about Rebus’s health than mine

Queen Camilla with Sir Ian Rankin (Yui Mok/PA)
Queen Camilla with Sir Ian Rankin (Yui Mok/PA)

Author Sir Ian Rankin has said fans of his Rebus series are more concerned about the health of the book’s detective than his own.

The Scottish writer, 64, appeared at Saturday’s Queen’s Reading Room Festival at Hampton Court Palace in Surrey, alongside other crime authors including Lee Child and Ann Cleeves, as part of a panel about their genre of fiction.

Sir Ian talked about when he goes to John Rebus’s favourite pub, the Oxford Bar in Edinburgh, and is met with people “always slighted disappointed that the guy they see is not” the “complex, dark and dangerous, brooding” fictional detective.

He described himself as a “guy sitting in a corner with a pint of beer and a crossword” and “a safe” person instead of the complex hero.

Sir Ian added: “They’re much more worried about Rebus’s health than my health.

“As long as the books keep coming, they don’t care. I could have a terrible cold or I could be on the point of death.”

He said that when Rebus developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) after years of smoking, fans asked if the detective would be “OK” living with the condition, and “don’t care” about the author’s ailments.

He said he had thought the end of his latest book, A Heart Full Of Headstones, which sees Rebus waiting in prison for a trial, would be a “terrific ending to the series”, but fans “bullied” him into writing another book, as they needed to know what happens next.

The latest book, Midnight And Blue, is to be released later this year, with the author accidentally giving spoilers at the event, and pointing to what appeared to be Rebus’s relationship with pathologist Deborah Quant.

British Book Awards 2018 – London
Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series (John Stillwell/PA)

Sir Ian said: “There was a kind of friends with benefits thing going on recently with a pathologist. But now he’s in chokey (prison), that’s not so easy.

“And since she gave evidence against him at his trial… you don’t find this out until the next book which is published in October, so forget I said that.”

He also said he has not yet watched the latest BBC instalment of the 2024 series of Rebus, which is on BBC iPlayer, as he watches “in real time”.

“So I’ll be in my hotel room in London tonight at (9.15pm) with my wife because we haven’t seen it, so we’ll watch episode four tonight,” he added before joking: “And I just hope that the screenwriter has toned down the swearing, he’s got a very potty mouth.”

Elsewhere, Child spoke about how indebted he is to his female readers, who make up an estimated 65% of buyers of his Jack Reacher books.

He told the audience: “I think you go into it imagining that women readers are going to want something more soft and human but the reverse is absolutely true and it’s an age thing as well… the most fearsome readers are older ladies. I call them the killer grannies.

“They absolutely love the mayhem and the blood and the broken bones and all of that, which took me by surprise, really… Reacher… wouldn’t think of himself as specifically a feminist, but he would regard himself as a rational human being.

Ann Cleeves
Ann Cleeves (ARC/NENC/PA)

“And that makes you a feminist, in my opinion, that if you look at the world, like it really is, you see people as completely equal until proven otherwise.”

Child, whose real name is Jim Grant, said his series is post-feminism as it does not matter if the bad guy is male or female because the lead character, a former US army officer, “will break their neck”.

“Male readers are so frustrating because there’s a huge demographic of men that are, first of all, rich enough to afford to buy books, and secondly, literate enough to read them,” he added. “But they have a terrible bias against fiction.

“They prefer to read about some president who died 200 years ago and so getting through to those people is difficult.”

The Coventry-born writer also said he sets his books in America as he can take advantage of scale of the country, such as in Die Trying, which sees Reacher “thrown into a van and driven 1,500 miles to a remote mountain hideout” while still being in the US.

He added: “What really attracted me to writing about America was, as I say, the audience, they’re very into crime fiction, they’re into thrillers, they will take a chance.

“And Britain is much more reserved about taking the chance on new things I find.”