Knots & Crosses: A Review

It’s strange to think that Knots & Crosses was a novel by Ian Rankin that sort of became a mistake…

After publishing his first book, The Flood, published to little reaction, Ian began what was intended to be a reworking of Doctor Jekyl and Mr Hyde. The idea was to modernise Edinburgh, and write a story that could be understood by the readers in the 80s. What Ian was creating was a character that earned him his name, and is still going strong thirty years later. 

I decided to read Ian’s work after my own writing was compared to his. Of course, his writing is a lot better – but I take it as a compliment! 

Knots & Crosses is a dark tale of abduction and murder. Behind the picturesque history of Edinburgh, away from the lenses of the tourists, a mad man is taking girls and killing them. Whilst he is doing this, Inspector Rebus is receiving letters from an anonymous source, with knots and crosses inside. 

Rebus doesn’t give them much thought. He’s not a stereotypical investigator. He knows the abducter needs to be found, but his mind is on other things: particularly his daughter Samantha, who is living with his ex-wife. 

Rebus then meets Gill Templer, who becomes a love interest for him. And a reporter is following him the whole time, convinced he is selling drugs with a brother he barely knows. 

As you read Knots & Crosses, you can tell that Rebus was not intended to be a long standing character. Whilst he is developed, the situation seems one off-ish, and the characters don’t have much purpose, other than for the reasons of the plot. A bit of backstory is explored with Rebus and how he got his job, and also his relationship with his deceased father, but that’s about it. 

The descriptions of Edinburgh make you want to visit the sites that aren’t in the travel books. It’s nice to read a book that dates before the age of social media. 

The plot comes together when a lecturer discovers a pattern Rebus missed: the first letters of the abductees spell out a name of someone very dear to Rebus. It’s fairly obvious how the plot will develop, but it works. 

Ian Rankin’s work is something that every reader should discover at some point. I’m just glad I’ve discovered it now! I have a lot of catching up to do. 


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