Some people just can’t stay retired, even if they’re not real.
Take John Rebus, an Edinburgh detective created by Scotland’s Ian Rankin. Despite winning many of the big awards in crime fiction, Rankin retired his character in 2009, only to find fans clamoring for more Rebus.
Rankin has relented with “Saints of the Shadow Bible” (Little, Brown, $26), although Rebus returns with a demotion — and an attitude. Critics approve of the decision. As Rebus is likened in the book to “one of those chess wizards, the ones who play a dozen boards at the same time,” so the Guardian described Rankin “as he weaves his dual plots into an ever more tangled maze, and then smoothly, oh so satisfactorily, irons them out again.”
Rankin will appear at Once Upon a Crime bookstore, 604 W. 26th St., Minneapolis, for a reading and book-signing at 7 p.m. Saturday.
We talked with Rankin about his imaginary staff canteen, why he likes giving readings in penitentiaries and what his main character has done for him.
Q. Describe your writing room.
A. It’s one of the bedrooms in my three-story Victorian-era house in Edinburgh. There’s a writing desk, computer, sofa and hi-fi system. Oh, and some clutter — lots of CDs and vinyl LPs plus folders, piles of books, magazines, newspapers. Large windows. I like it very much.
Q. What is your writing strategy — do you have rituals that you maintain?
A. Well, panic plays a part. I usually write a new book every year, which means no time for dawdling. When I know I have a deadline, the adrenaline kicks in. I don’t do a huge amount of pre-plotting. I have a theme, and a rough plot that may allow me to explore that theme. Then I start writing. Most of the research is done between the first draft and the second, because by then I know where the gaps are and what those gaps may be.
Q. How do you get past writers’ block (or the distraction of the Internet)?
A. I don’t have much time for writers’ block! If I hit a problem, I discuss it with my wife. She often offers answers. Or I go for a walk. The Internet is a distraction, of course, but I do love Twitter. Writing is a solitary occupation, and when I take a break and check Twitter it’s as though I’ve entered the staff canteen — and the canteen is full of clever, funny people who are talking about all the latest news.
Q. Do you have a favorite book from childhood?
A. My favorite book from childhood is probably “Green Eggs and Ham.” Thing is, it’s not from my childhood. For whatever reason, Dr. Seuss passed me by — until I became a dad. I used to read “Green Eggs” to my son Jack every night when he was very young. I loved it and can still, 20 years on, recite chunks of it.
Q. What books do you re-read?
A. I spent three years at Edinburgh University studying towards a Ph.D. in the novels of Muriel Spark. I never completed my thesis, being too busy writing my own books [including the first Inspector Rebus novel], but I still love Spark’s poetic, witty, biting satires. I often reread “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” “Girls of Slender Means,” “The Driver’s Seat” and “The Public Image.”
Q. What’s on your desk?
A. A list of things I need to do, books I need to read, a lawyer’s phone number and an unopened box of multivitamins from Christmas two years ago.
Q. Where are you right now? Describe what you see.
A. So I’m seated on the small leather sofa in my office. It faces the hi-fi system. I’m playing David Bowie’s 2013 album “The Next Day.” On the walls are paintings and prints by some of my favorite artists — John Bellany, Paolozzi. Plus a cherished photo of Keith Richards signing a book for me. It’s night and a gale is blowing, so the wooden shutters are closed.
Q. What are you reading right now?
A. Right now I’m reading Donald Fagen’s oblique, entertaining memoir “Elegant Hipsters.” He doesn’t say much about his time in Steely Dan, but is a fine essayist. I’ve also got James Salter’s “Collected Stories” on the go.
Q. What’s been the best place so far to do a reading?
A. Well, I’ve been known to do readings in bars and even breweries — and those are usually a lot of fun. I also get good, different questions from prisoners when I give talks in penitentiaries.
Q. What authors have inspired you?
A. Many authors have inspired me. The Robert Louis Stevenson who wrote “Jekyll and Hyde,” the Scottish novelist William McIlvanney, James Ellroy, Ruth Rendell. I’ve learned — and sometimes borrowed — from the best!
Q. You’ve been writing Inspector Rebus for more than 25 years. What has surprised you most about the person he’s become today?
A. Rebus continually evolves and continually surprises me — that’s why I keep writing about him: It’s the only way to find out what’s going on in his world. I suppose I’m most surprised that he has elected to stick around and keep me company. He was only supposed to appear in one book … then two or three … then maybe seven or eight or nine. We’re now up to book 19, and his lifestyle hasn’t killed him yet.