Ian Rankin’s Rebus


The protagonist of seventeen books published between 1987 and 2007, Detective Inspector John Rebus is the creation of Scottish Crime Writer and Tartan Noir pioneer Ian Rankin.

From p. 399 Fleshmarket Close by Ian Rankin

December 2004

The two men walked away from the small terraced house on Middlecliffe Lane, Little Houghton.

Late December and it was cold.

Both men were big and broad, and both walked with the same casual ownership of any space they occupied.

Bramah turned and looked back up at the windows.

‘Think he did it?’ Detective Inspector Rebus asked.

Bramah twisted his lips. After a minute, he said: ‘Think we can prove it?’

‘Does that matter?’ Rebus said.

Bramah looked at the other man and frowned.

They drove over to Darfield in Rebus’ Saab, Morcheeba playing low on the stereo. Bramah endured the music and looked out over the view. Held in ice under a pale blue sky.

The Yorkshireman gave directions, sending them down a back road cutting out before Cat Hill, under a broken bridge, and pulling up at a big pub.

Neither man spoke for the five minutes trip.

The pub was a long building in white. Georgian windows. A car park spreading out in front.

Inside was all trimmed up, ready for Christmas and the long night of drunken gypsy pub fights.

Rebus sat near the window.

Bramah came back from the bar with two pints. Bitter for the Scot and a Guinness for himself.

Rebus was lighting up another cigarette and glancing ’round the bar. ‘Slainte,’ he said, palming the glass to his mouth.

‘Cheers,’ Bramah replied, doing the same.

The two men sat in silence until two inches of their drinks had disappeared.

The tinselled bar was slowly filling. The older end mostly, though a group of three lads were round the pool table. Skinny smackhead types.

‘So,’ Bramah said, breaking the silence between the two men, ‘how do you do it?’


He glanced casually towards the pool table. ‘Empathize with the dross so much?’

Rebus sat back, following his eyes. ‘What makes you say that?’

‘Question with a question? Bramah smiled. ‘All right. Any tale of poverty and you take the bait like you’re starving. I’ve noticed it before.’

‘I’m not sure I do,’ Rebus replied. ‘And you’ve never been affected by someone’s story?’

Bramah looked at Rebus and shook his head. ‘Not lately. I’ve had too many days and nights stood in some rat hole listening to hard luck stories from people who’ve just shat in their own kitchen sinks. I don’t believe any of ’em.’

Rebus frowned. ‘You can’t mean that?’

‘Too right, I do. You didn’t do your time in uniform, did you? If you had you’d have seen what I’ve seen.’

Rebus shook his head. ‘I’m well researched,’ he stated.

Bramah let this go. ‘What was it you said in Fleshmarket Close? “There’s no excuse for the detention centres”? Something like that, anyway.’


‘You wouldn’t last five minutes, mate.’

Rebus studied the other man’s face, then shrugged.

Bramah said: ‘And don’t you think Ellen Wylie lost the plot when you went to that detention centre together? How long’s she been a bobby?’

‘About ten or fifteen years.’

‘You surprise me. And Siobhan!’

‘What about her?’ Rebus asked, his face darkening.

‘Well, are all the women up there getting hormones? She got her knickers in a right twist when you went to that lap dancing bar. It’s only tits and arse, when all’s said and done.’

Rebus paused, an angry look washing across his face, and then smiled. ‘Siobhan can handle her own.’



‘So she’s not just a female mirror image of your psyche?’

Rebus took another sip of beer before answering. ‘No.’

Bramah grinned, saying: ‘Have you?’

Rebus clenched his jaw muscles and Bramah laughed loudly. ‘All right! All right!’ He laughed pacifically. ‘So why did you become a copper?’ he asked.

Rebus thought, then: ‘Because I like puzzles.’

‘Fucking hell, you could have saved yourself a lot of grief and just got a Rubik’s Cube if all you wa’ after was a puzzle. Settle yourself down with a bumper book of Sudoku.’

Rebus smiled.

Bramah said: ‘Some people become bobbies because it seems worthwhile – they’re usually under twenty-one when they do that; mentally if not physically – or because their family were in the police. The ones pushing thirty or over who become bobbies because it’s a last chance. They’ve messed up somewhere, somehow. Things haven’t gone quite right. But they don’t want to go down or end up in a dead end job where they have to get their hands mucky. They still feel they have a right to a decent wage and a pension. And so they become coppers.’

‘Is that your story then?’ Rebus asked.

Bramah considered, then nodded. ‘Pretty much, yeah. More or less.’

‘So why do you think I wouldn’t last five minutes?’ Rebus asked.

Bramah frowned. ‘I don’t know, mate. For a start most DIs that I know never get out of the office that much, they’re too busy amending reports on £2.50 shoplifters and coming to decisions about no injury common assaults. Shit like that. That’s what police work’s about these days – public satisfaction and getting everything to dovetail. The rank and file aren’t allowed to make judgement calls on a day to day basis anymore. And, despite all this gritty realism you’re supposed to portray, it just seems to me that in all your cases you always end up with some toff in there somehow or other. It’s like you’re back there with Hercules Poirot and all those other detectives who can’t investigate any crime that doesn’t involve rich people in some way. Not like real bobbying, which is mostly dealing with the shit kickers. Do you know what I mean?’

Rebus thought about it. ‘Aye,’ he conceded, ‘you’re right.’

‘Like Fleshmarket Close. Son of Scottish TV star and a portrait painter?’ Bramah shook his head. ‘I mean, fuck my boots.’

Rebus shrugged. ‘I work with what I’m given.’

‘And poor old Reynolds – chucked to the reader as the stereotypical bigoted copper. Institutionally racist.’

‘You can’t say you agree with his attitude.’

‘Not out loud, you’re right there,’ Bramah said. ‘I value my pension too much. But I can’t say that I disagree with him either, or his right to be what and who he wants to be. But that business with the bananas, what was that all about?’

Rebus blushed. ‘Don’t even go there,’ he conceded. ‘But Ian was spot on about the immigrants, just got the right angle, I thought.’

‘Come off it. You’re living with your head up your arse. We’ve got enough criminals without importing some more. And as far as I can see, after reading Fleshmarket Close, the only thing they seem to learn from us is how to swear. And that just makes them more endearing, doesn’t it?’

Rebus took a quick swallow of the beer.

Bramah smiled. ‘You’re so fucking objective, John. You’ll end up agreeing with everyone except yourself.’

Nodding, Rebus said: ‘You’re probably right.’


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