Knots and Crosses (Inspector John Rebus Series #1)

Knots and Crosses (Inspector John Rebus Series #1)

3.9 19
by Ian Rankin, Michael Page

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Once John Rebus served in Britain's elite S.A.S. Now he's an Edinburgh cop who hides from his memories, misses promotions and ignores a series of crank letters. But as the ghoulish killings mount and the tabloid headlines scream, Rebus cannot stop the feverish shrieks from within his own mind. Because he isn't just one cop trying to catch a killer, he's the man who


Once John Rebus served in Britain's elite S.A.S. Now he's an Edinburgh cop who hides from his memories, misses promotions and ignores a series of crank letters. But as the ghoulish killings mount and the tabloid headlines scream, Rebus cannot stop the feverish shrieks from within his own mind. Because he isn't just one cop trying to catch a killer, he's the man who's got all the pieces of the puzzle...

Knots and Crosses introduces a gifted mystery novelist, a fascinating local and the most compellingly complex detective hero at work today.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal - Audio
Inspector John Rebus, a former soldier, is now an investigator for the Edinburgh police force. He is haunted by personal demons and is fond of cigarettes and alcohol. As the city is gripped by a serial killer who targets preadolescent girls, Rebus soon realizes that his past may play a part in the killer's motives. This gritty police procedural, rich in atmosphere and character, is expertly narrated by Michael Page. VERDICT First published in 1987, this was the first novel in Rankin's popular series. It will attract Rankin fans who may want to experience it in audio, as well as new fans of the series.—Phillip Oliver, Univ. of North Alabama Lib., Florence
From the Publisher

“His is a superbly drawn character; matched by the edgy authenticity of the Scottish locale and dialogue.” —Marcel Berlins, The Times

“Suspenseful riddling, with exemplary eye to the plod of police through civic jungle.” —Sunday Times

Product Details

Brilliance Audio
Publication date:
Inspector John Rebus Series , #1
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Knots and Crosses

By Ian Rankin

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1987 Ian Rankin
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-312-95673-8


On the steps of the Great London Road police station in Edinburgh, John Rebus lit his last legitimate cigarette of the day before pushing open the imposing door and stepping inside.

The station was old, its floor dark and marbled. It had about it the fading grandeur of a dead aristocracy. It had character.

Rebus waved to the duty sergeant, who was tearing old pictures from the notice-board and pinning up new ones in their place. He climbed the great curving staircase to his office. Campbell was just leaving.

"Hello, John."

McGregor Campbell, a Detective Sergeant like Rebus, was donning coat and hat.

"What's the word, Mac? Is it going to be a busy night?" Rebus began checking the messages on his desk.

"I don't know about that, John, but I can tell you that it's been pandemonium in here today. There's a letter there for you from the man himself."

"Oh yes?" Rebus seemed preoccupied with another letter which he had just opened.

"Yes, John. Brace yourself. I think you're going to be transferred to that abduction case. Good luck to you. Well, I'm off to the pub. I want to catch the boxing on the BBC. I should be in time." Campbell checked his watch. "Yes, plenty of time. Is anything wrong, John?" Rebus waved the now empty envelope at him.

"Who brought this in, Mac?"

"I haven't the faintest, John. What is it?"

"Another crank letter."

"Oh yes?" Campbell sidled over to Rebus's shoulder. He examined the typed note. "Looks like the same bloke, doesn't it?"

"Clever of you to notice that, Mac, seeing as it's the exact same message."

"What about the string?"

"Oh, it's here too." Rebus lifted a small piece of string from his desk. There was a simple knot tied in its middle.

"Queer bloody business." Campbell walked to the doorway. "See you tomorrow, John."

"Yes, yes, see you, Mac." Rebus paused until his friend had made his exit. "Oh, Mac!" Campbell came back into the doorway.


"Maxwell won the big fight," said Rebus, smiling.

"God, you're a bastard, Rebus." Gritting his teeth, Campbell stalked out of the station.

"One of the old school," Rebus said to himself. "Now, what possible enemies could I have?"

He studied the letter again, then checked the envelope. It was blank, save for his own name, unevenly typed. The note had been handed in, just like the other one. It was a queer bloody business right enough.

He walked back downstairs and headed for the desk.


"Yes, John."

"Have you seen this?" He showed the envelope to the desk sergeant.

"That?" The sergeant wrinkled not only his brow but, it seemed to Rebus, his whole face. Only forty years in the force could do that to a man, forty years of questions and puzzles and crosses to bear. "It must have been put through the door, John. I found it myself on the floor just there." He pointed vaguely in the direction of the station's front door. "Is anything up?"

"Oh no, it's nothing really. Thanks, Jimmy."

But Rebus knew that he would be niggled all night by the arrival of this note, only days after he had received the first anonymous message. He studied the two letters at his desk. The work of an old typewriter, probably portable. The letter S about a millimetre higher than the other letters. The paper cheap, no water-mark. The piece of string, tied in the middle, cut with a sharp knife or scissors. The message. The same typewritten message:


Fair enough; perhaps there were. It was the work of a crank, a kind of practical joke. But why him? It made no sense. Then the phone rang.

"Detective Sergeant Rebus?"


"Rebus, it's Chief Inspector Anderson here. Have you received my note?"

Anderson. Bloody Anderson. That was all he needed. From one crank to another.

"Yes, sir," said Rebus, holding the receiver under his chin and tearing open the letter on his desk.

"Good. Can you be here in twenty minutes? The briefing will be in the Waverley Road Incident Room."

"I'll be there, sir."

The phone went dead on Rebus as he read. It was true then, it was official. He was being transferred to the abduction case. God, what a life. He pushed the messages, envelopes and string into his jacket pocket, looking around the office in frustration. Who was kidding who? It would take an act of God to get him to Waverley Road inside of half an hour. And when was he supposed to get round to finishing all his work? He had three cases coming to court and another dozen or so crying out for some paperwork before his memory of them faded entirely. That would be nice, actually, nice to just erase the lot of them. Wipe-out. He closed his eyes. He opened them again. The paperwork was still there, large as life. Useless. Always incomplete. No sooner had he finished with a case than another two or three appeared in its place. What was the name of that creature? The Hydra, was it? That was what he was fighting. Every time he cut off a head, more popped into his in-tray. Coming back from a holiday was a nightmare.

And now they were giving him rocks to push up hills as well.

He looked to the ceiling.

"With God's grace," he whispered. Then he headed out to his car.


The Sutherland Bar was a popular watering-hole. It contained no jukebox, no video machines, no bandits. The decor was spartan, and the TV usually flickered and jumped. Ladies had not been welcome until well into the 1960s. There had, it seemed, been something to hide: the best pint of draught beer in Edinburgh. McGregor Campbell supped from his heavy glass, his eyes intent on the television set above the bar.

"Who wins?" asked a voice beside him.

"I don't know," he said, turning to the voice. "Oh, hello, Jim."

A stocky man was sitting beside him, money in hand, waiting to be served. His eyes, too, were on the TV.

"Looks like a cracker of a fight," he said. "I fancy Mailer to win."

Mac Campbell had an idea.

"No, I reckon Maxwell will walk it, win by a mile. Fancy a bet?"

The stocky man fished into his pocket for his cigarettes, eyeing the policeman.

"How much?" he asked.

"A fiver?" said Campbell.

"You're on. Tom, give me a pint over here, please. Do you want one yourself, Mac?"

"Same again, thanks."

They sat in silence for a while, supping the beer and watching the fight. A few muffled roars went up occasionally from behind them as a punch landed or was dodged.

"It's looking good for your man if it goes the distance," said Campbell, ordering more drinks.

"Aye. But let's wait and see, eh? How's work, by the way?"

"Fine, how's yours?"

"A pure bloody slog at the moment, if you must ask." Some ash dropped onto his tie as he talked, the cigarette never leaving his mouth, though it wobbled precariously from time to time. "A pure slog."

"Are you still chasing up that drugs story?"

"Not really. I've landed on this kidnapping thing."

"Oh? So has Rebus. You'd better not get into his hair."

"Newspapermen get in everybody's hair, Mac. It goes with the etcetera."

Mac Campbell, though wary of Jim Stevens, was grateful for a friendship, however tenuous and strained it had sometimes been, which had given him some information useful to his career. Stevens kept much of the juiciest tidbits to himself, of course. That's what "exclusives" were made of. But he was always willing to trade, and it seemed to Campbell that the most innocuous pieces of gossip and information often seemed adequate for Stevens' needs. He was a kind of magpie, collecting everything without prejudice, storing much more of it than, surely, he would ever use. But with reporters you never could tell. Certainly, Campbell was happier with Stevens as a friend than as an enemy.

"So what's happening about your drugs dossier?"

Jim Stevens shrugged his creased shoulders.

"There's nothing in there just now that could be of much use to you boys anyway. I'm not about to let the whole thing drop though, if that's what you mean. No, that's too big a nest of vipers to be allowed to go free. I'll still be keeping my eyes open."

A bell rang for the last round of the fight. Two sweating, dog-tired bodies converged on one another, becoming a single knot of limbs.

"Still looks good for Mailer," said Campbell, an uneasy feeling coming over him. It couldn't be true. Rebus wouldn't have done that to him. Suddenly, Maxwell, the heavier and slower-moving of the two fighters, was hit by a blow to the face and staggered back. The bar erupted, sensing blood and victory. Campbell stared into his glass. Maxwell was taking a standing count. It was all over. A sensation in the final seconds of the contest, according to the commentator.

Jim Stevens held out his hand.

I'll kill bloody Rebus, thought Campbell. So help me, I'll kill him.

Later, over drinks bought with Campbell's money, Jim Stevens asked about Rebus.

"So it looks as if I'll be meeting him at last?"

"Maybe, maybe not. He's not exactly friendly with Anderson, so he may well get the shitty end of the stick, sitting at a desk all day. But then John Rebus isn't exactly friendly with anybody."


"Ach, he's not that bad, I suppose, but he's not the easiest of men to like." Campbell, ducking from his friend's interrogative eyes, studied the reporter's tie. The recent layer of cigarette-ash had merely formed a veil over much older stains. Egg, perhaps, fat, alcohol. The scruffiest reporters were always the sharp ones, and Stevens was sharp, as sharp as ten years on the local newspaper could make a man. It was said that he had turned down jobs with London papers, just because he liked to live in Edinburgh. And what he liked best about his job was the opportunity it gave him to uncover the city's murkier depths, the crime, the corruption, the gangs and the drugs. He was a better detective than anyone Campbell knew, and, because of that very fact perhaps, the high-ups in the police both disliked and distrusted him. That seemed proof enough that he was doing his job well. Campbell watched as a little beer escaped from Stevens' glass and dripped onto his trousers.

"This Rebus," said Stevens, wiping his mouth, "he's the brother of the hypnotist, isn't he?"

"Must be. I've never asked him, but there can't be too many people about with a name like that, can there?"

"That's what I was thinking." He nodded to himself as though confirming something of great importance.

"So what?"

"Oh, nothing. Just something. And he's not a popular man, you say?"

"I didn't say that exactly. I feel sorry for him really. The poor bugger has a lot on his plate. He's even started getting crank letters."

"Crank letters?" Smoke enveloped Stevens for a moment as he puffed on another cigarette. Between the two men lay a thin blue pub-haze.

"I shouldn't have told you that. That was strictly off the record."

Stevens nodded.

"Absolutely. No, it's just that I was interested. That sort of thing does happen though, doesn't it?"

"Not often. And not nearly as queer as the ones he's getting. I mean, they're not abusive or anything. They're just ... queer."

"Go on. How so?"

"Well, there's a bit of string in each one, tied into a knot, and there's a message that reads something like 'clues are everywhere.'" "Bloody hell. That is strange. They're a strange family. One a bloody hypnotist and the other getting anonymous notes. He was in the Army, wasn't he?"

"John was, yes. How did you know?"

"I know everything, Mac. That's the job."

"Another funny thing is that he won't speak about it."

The reporter looked interested again. When he was interested in something, his shoulders shivered slightly. He stared at the television.

"Won't speak about the Army?"

"Not a word. I've asked him about it a couple of times."

"Like I said, Mac, it's a funny family that one. Drink up, I've got lots of your money left to spend."

"You're a bastard, Jim."

"Born and bred," said the reporter, smiling for only the second time that evening.


"Gentlemen, and, of course, ladies, thank you for being so quick to gather here. This will remain the centre of operations during the inquiry. Now, as you all know ..."

Detective Chief Superintendent Wallace froze in mid-speech as the Inquiry Room door pushed itself open abruptly and John Rebus, all eyes turned towards him, entered the room. He looked about in embarrassment, smiled a hopeful but wasted apology towards the senior officer, and sat himself down on a chair nearest to the door.

"As I was saying," continued the superintendent.

Rebus, rubbing at his forehead, studied the roomful of officers. He knew what the old boy would be saying, and right now the last thing he needed was a pep-talk of the old school. The room was packed. Many of them looked tired, as if they'd been on the case for a while. The fresher, more attentive faces belonged to the new boys, some of them brought in from stations outwith the city. Two or three had notebooks and pencils at the ready, almost as if they were back in the school classroom. And at the front of the group, legs crossed, sat two women, peering up at Wallace, who was in full flight now, parading before the blackboard like some Shakespearean hero in a bad school play.

"Two deaths, then. Yes, deaths I'm afraid." The room shivered expectantly. "The body of Sandra Adams, aged eleven, was found on a piece of waste ground adjacent to Haymarket Station at six o'clock this evening, and that of Mary Andrews at six-fifty on an allotment in the Oxgangs district. There are officers at both locations, and at the end of this briefing more of you will be selected to join them."

Rebus was noticing that the usual pecking-order was in play: inspectors near the front of the room, sergeants and the rest to the back. Even in the midst of murder, there is a pecking-order. The British Disease. And he was at the bottom of the pile, because he had arrived late. Another black mark against him on someone's mental sheet.

He had always been one of the top men while he had been in the Army. He had been a Para. He had trained for the SAS and come out top of his class. He had been chosen for a crack Special Assignments group. He had his medal and his commendations. It had been a good time, and yet it had been the worst of times, too, a time of stress and deprivation, of deceit and brutality. And when he had left, the police had been reluctant to take him. He understood now that it was something to do with the pressure applied by the Army to get him the job that he wanted. Some people resented that, and they had thrown down banana skins ever since for him to slide on. But he had sidestepped their traps, had performed the job, and had grudgingly been given his commendations here also. But there was precious little promotion, and that had caused him to say a few things out of line, a few things that were always to be held against him. And then he had cuffed an unruly bastard one night in the cells. God forgive him, he had simply lost his head for a minute. There had been more trouble over that. Ah, but it was not a nice world this, not a nice world at all. It was an Old Testament land that he found himself in, a land of barbarity and retribution.

"We will, of course, have more information for you to work on come tomorrow, after the post-mortems. But for the moment I think that will do. I'm going to hand you over to Chief Inspector Anderson, who will assign you to your tasks for the present."

Rebus noticed that Jack Morton had nodded off in the corner and, if left unattended, would begin snoring soon. Rebus smiled, but the smile was short-lived, killed by a voice at the front of the room, the voice of Anderson. This was all Rebus needed. Anderson, the man at the centre of his out-of-line remarks. It felt for one sickening moment like predestination. Anderson was in charge. Anderson was doling out their tasks. Rebus reminded himself to stop praying. Perhaps if he stopped praying, God would take the hint and stop being such a bastard to one of his few believers on this near-godforsaken planet.

"Gemmill and Hartley will be assigned to door-to-door."

Well, thank God he'd not been landed with that one. There was only one thing worse than door-to-door ...

"And for an initial check on the M.O. files, Detective Sergeants Morton and Rebus."

... and that was it.

Thank you, God, oh, thank you. That's just what I wanted to do with my evening: read through the case histories of all the bloody perverts and sex-offenders in east central Scotland. You must really hate my guts. Am I Job or something? Is that it?

But there was no ethereal voice to be heard, no voice at all save that of the satanic, leering Anderson, whose fingers slowly turned the pages of the roster, his lips moist and full, his wife a known adulteress and his son — of all things — an itinerant poet. Rebus heaped curse after curse upon the shoulders of that priggish, stick-thin superior officer, then kicked Jack Morton's leg and brought him snorting and chaffing into consciousness.

One of those nights.


Excerpted from Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin. Copyright © 1987 Ian Rankin. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Ian Rankin is the worldwide #1 bestselling writer of the Inspector Rebus books, including Hide and Seek, Let It Bleed, Black and Blue, Set in Darkness, Resurrection Men, A Question of Blood, The Falls and Exit Music. He is also the author of The Complaints and Doors Open. He has won an Edgar Award, a Gold Dagger for fiction, a Diamond Dagger for career excellence, and the Chandler-Fulbright Award. He has been elected a Hawthornden Fellow, and received the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his contributions to literature. He graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1982. He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, with his wife and their two sons.

Brief Biography

Edinburgh, London and France
Date of Birth:
April 28, 1960
Place of Birth:
Cardenden, Scotland
Edinburgh University

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Knots and Crosses 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was bored. I was in Edinburgh for the day, following up on my own Scottish research interests, when shuffling along Princess Street, I found a bookshop with an interesting Ian Rankin display. The marketers would be proud. Their 'dark' book covers, enticed me into the store and to the crime section. I wanted something to read while passing the time in Edinburgh, waiting for my meeting as well as something to pass the time on the hour-long train ride back to Glasgow. After several years of visiting, I wanted to get to know the true Scotland. An old research tool, read 'the literature' generated from homegrown authors. I picked up Knots and Crosses, not realizing that this was the second in Rebus series. I found a nearby coffee shop and dived right in. I blanched at Rankin's descriptive powers. I kept looking up and about Princess Street, the Castle, and Scott Monument. Were these 'true-life' depictions of the city before me? I have lived in Washington, DC and I know about 'crime'. Edinburgh began to shed its' tourist skin. I was so engrossed that I almost missed my bus to my meeting. As the bus drove around Edinburgh, I began to view it through Rebus's eyes, his Edinburgh. Rankin molded the plot, the backdrop, wonderfully. My heart ached as I saw Rebus trying to exorcise his own demons, while untangling the puzzles, left virtually on his doorstep. I was a virtual 'fly on the wall', unobtrusive spirit, looking over Rebus shoulder, wondering where he would go and do next. I saw the 'grit, the dirt of Edinburgh.' Here was an author that didn't sugar coat fiction. I realized this was a series I needed to read.
KenCady More than 1 year ago
Having read most of the Inspector Rebus novels except this one, it was nice to see where it all started. The first novel reads like many of the others, as the Rebus personality takes shape. Sad to note that he was such a lush from the beginning. If there is anything I didn't like about the Rebus books, it was all the boozing. Too much for me. Otherwise, I enjoyed the Edinburgh setting, a postcard view that we see as tourists hiding all those blemishes. Rankin creates great characters, many of whom I'd love to have a cup of tea with. From start to finish, if Exit Music is the finish, Ian Rankin has created a series of which he can be proud. A toast to you, Sir.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Perfect balance of character and action. No lurid overkill like so many thrillers these days. Solid, honest, engaging. Well worth reading. Classic, timeless.
Delphimo More than 1 year ago
Inspector Rebus is an enigma as a character. He seems gentle, religious, and blasé. But as the book progresses, the reader learns that Rebus trained for Special Forces in the military, and passed with flying colors, then has a mental breakdown after the completion. Rebus seems to pro through life with a failed marriage and a so-so police career. A serial killer has murdered two young girls, and then abducts Rebus's daughter. The story quickly ends after the abduction. I do not find any redeemable quality in Rebus as the main character.
elizabeth39 More than 1 year ago
This is my second novel starring Inspector Rebus. Rankin makes Rebus colorful with a drive to reach solutions. Looking forward to the entire series.
Roger_Knight More than 1 year ago
For the first half of the book, the plot is just ticking over quietly. You are getting some important background information, character definition and atmosphere. But then, like an insanely expensive supercar, the plot leaps from zero to 120 mph in one page. It maintains that pace until the inevitable ending. I am perhaps being a little harsh in not giving this book four stars. But unlike Pat Conroy, who makes you care about his characters before he does evil things to them, I never developed an emotional attachment to John Rebus. He is certainly flawed and has a colorful past, but he just isn't that interesting. And Ian Rankin doesn't have the same skill with lyrical prose that James Lee Burke has. So, I enjoyed the book, but not moved by it.
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Onthefly More than 1 year ago
Loved the book. Will read the others but I find the "smoke filled" police station and bars disgusting. Puts a new twist on "graphic novel".
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