Review: Knots And Crosses, by Ian Rankin

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Rebus: The Early Years. Orion, 1999. Omnibus edition (Knots & Crosses; Hide & Seek; Tooth & Nail). ISBN: 978-0752837994. 598 Pages.

1060229Knots And Crosses was released in 1987 and is the first Rebus book by Ian Rankin. It was written when he was still a postgraduate student at Edinburgh University. In Exile on Princes Street, an introduction to Rebus: The Early Years (Orion, 1999), Rankin wrote: 

‘I wanted to update Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to 1980s Edinburgh. My idea was: cop as a good guy (Jekyll), villain as bad guy (Hyde). So I wrote Knots and Crosses. I was living in a room in a ground´floor flat in Arden Street, so my hero, John Rebus, had to live across the road. When the book was published, I found to my astonishment that everyone was saying I’d written a whodunnit, a crime novel. I think I’m still the only crime writer I know who hadn’t a clue about the genre before setting out. There were crime sections in bookshops and libraries – news to me – and a healthy number of practitioners extant. So instead of my literary studies, I turned to the likes of Rendell, James, Hill, Ellroy, Block … And the stuff wasn’t bad. The form was flexible. I could say everything I wanted to say about the world, and still give readers a pacy, gripping narrative.’ 

The book title is the British term for a game known in the US as tick-tack-toe. Two players take turns placing their symbol, a nought ‘0’ or a cross ‘X,’ in one of the nine boxes formed by two pairs of crossed lines. The winner is the first player who places three of his or her symbols in a row.  

When we first meet him, John Rebus is a 41-year-old Detective Sergeant at the Great London Road police station in Edinburgh (Scotland). A former SAS member (the British Special Forces), who left the army after a nervous breakdown. Something he doesn’t want to talk about. Currently he’s divorced and has a twelve-years-old daughter, Samantha, who lives with her mother. He drinks and smokes in excess.

Two girls, roughly about Samantha’s age, have been abducted in Edinburgh. Shortly after, their bodies have been found, they were both strangled. Oddly enough, they were not raped. Rebus is assigned to the team in charge of the case. At about that time Rebus has begun to receive some anonymous letters. Enclosed to these letters, there is a knot of string or a cross made of matchsticks. Rebus doesn’t pay them more attention. When a third girl is kidnapped, the police realises that a serial killer is on the loose and must be stopped before it is too late.

Honestly I believe that Knots And Crosses is just an ordinary reading experience. It can be read easily given its length and is really well written. It is also quite enjoyable despite all its flaws. Certainly it’s an early work. As such is full of commonplaces and the characters, in my view, are not well developed; they lack some depth. Rankin is still on an early stage of his apprenticeship. Anyway, it’s worth to discover the background of John Rebus. I’ll undoubtedly recommend this book to all Rebus enthusiast. My plan is to read chronologically all the books in the series. Stay tuned.  

My rating: 3/5.

Ian Rankin’s Inspector John Rebus novels in chronological order to these it must be added a new book, Shadow Saints of the Bible, to be released in November.

Knots And Crosses has been review at The Complete ReviewReviewing the evidence, The Bookbag, djskrimiblog (Dorte), BooksPlease (Margaret)

The Orion Publishing Group

Macmillan Publishers

Ian Rankin’s Official Website 

Nudos y Cruces de Ian Rankin


Nudos y cruces fue publicado en 1987 y es el primer libro de la serie de Rakin protagonizada por el inspector Rebus. Fue escrito cuando era todavía un estudiante de posgrado en la Universidad de Edimburgo. En Exilio en Princes Street, una introducción a Rebus: Los primeros años (Orion, 1999), Rankin escribió:

‘Quería actualizar Dr. Jekyll y Mr. Hyde al Edimburgo de 1980. Mi idea era: Poli como chico bueno (Jekyll), villano como chico malo (Hyde). Por tanto escribí Nudos y cruces. Vivía entonces en una habitación en un piso en la planta baja de Arden Street, por lo que mi héroe, John Rebus , tenía que vivir nada más cruzar la calle. Cuando se publicó el libro, descubrí para mi asombro que todo el mundo decía que había escrito una historia de misterio (whodunnit), una novela policíaca . Creo que sigo siendo el único escritor de novela policiaca que conozco que no tenía ni idea del género cuando comenzó. Había secciones de novela negra y policíaca en librerías y bibliotecas – algo novedoso para mí – y existía un buen número de profesionales. Por tanto en lugar de continuar con mis estudios literarios, recurrí a escritores como Rendell, James, Hill, Ellroy, Block … Y no estaban mal. La formula era flexible. Podía decir todo lo que quería decir del mundo, y aún así, seguir dando a los lectores una narración dinámica y apasionante.’

El título del libro es el término británico del juego conocido en España como tres-en-raya. Dos jugadores se turnan para colocar su símbolo, un cero ‘0’ o una cruz ‘ X ‘, en una de las nueve casillas formadas por dos pares de líneas cruzadas. El ganador es el primer jugador en colocar sus tres símbolos en fila.

Cuando nos encontramos por pimera vez con él, John Rebus tiene 41 años y el grado de sargento detective en la comisaría de policía situada en la calle Gran Londres de Edimburgo (Escocia ). Habia sido un antiguo miembro de las SAS (las fuerzas especiales británicas), pero las dejó después de sufrir una crisis nerviosa. Un episodio del que no quiere hablar. Actualmente está divorciado y tiene una hija de doce años de edad, Samantha, que vive con su madre. Bebe y fuma en exceso.

Dos chicas, más o menos de la edad de Samantha, han sido secuestradas en Edimburgo. Poco después, se han encontrado sus cuerpos, ambas fueron estranguladas. Por extraño que parezca, no fueron violadas. Rebus es destinado al equipo encargado del caso. Por esas fechas Rebus ha comenzado a recibir algunas cartas anónimas. Adjunto a las cartas, hay un nudo de cuerda o una cruz hecha con cerillas. Rebus no les presta más atención. Cuando secuestran a una tercera chica, la policía se da cuenta de que un asesino en serie anda suelto y debe ser detenido antes de que sea demasiado tarde.

Sinceramente creo que Nudos y cruces es sólo una experiencia de lectura común y corriente. Se puede leer con mucha facilidad, dada su extensión y está muy bien escrita. También resulta muy agradable a pesar de todos sus defectos. Ciertamente es una obra de juventud. Como tal está llena de lugares comunes y los personajes, en mi opinión, no están bien desarrollados, carecen de cierta profundidad. Rankin está todavía en una etapa temprana de su aprendizaje. De todos modos, vale la pena descubrir los antecedentes de John Rebus. Yo, sin duda, recomiendo este libro a todos los entusiastas de Rebus. Mi plan es leer cronológicamente todos los libros de la serie. Permanezcan sintonízados.

Mi valoración : 3/5.

Nudos y cruces ha sido reseñada en Maite Uró,


14 thoughts on “Review: Knots And Crosses, by Ian Rankin”

  1. That’s probably a good idea. Too late for me, unfortunately, I discovered Ranking in random order, whatever was available at my local library. And I love the quote about the flexibility of the crime fiction format: you really can put anything into it, can’t you?

    1. Thank you Marina Sofia. It’s never too late. I have read some Rebus books at random as well. I love that quote too. That’s probably the reason why I love the crime fiction genre.

  2. José Ignacio – An excellent review as ever. I agree with you that this one is not as rich in some ways as the later novels are. I think Rebus does evolve over the course of the series, and so do the interactions among the other characters. Still, Rankin’s ability to draw plot threads together is clear here, in my opinion.

    1. Thank you very much for your kind comments Margot. I’ma sorry for my late reply. Agree with you about Rankin’s ability since his early books.

  3. I’m another who’s read them randomly. It’ll be interesting to follow your reviews and see how you feel the character develops over time. And the new Rebus is due out in November…

  4. Thanks Jose. I agree about the content of Knots and Crosses and Rankin has by his own admission said that he wrote this with no idea that more would follow! I agree that Rankin’s character has been richly developed over the course of the series but Black and Blue is still my favourite.

    1. Certainly, Raven, according to my information Black and Blue is, probably, Rankin’s best. As from this book, he begun to be recognised.

  5. I wasn’t a big fan of the first few books of the series, but I liked them more as the series developed. Sorry I can’t point you to a particular favorite, but I read most of the series in a short time so my memory is blurry.

  6. Jose Ignacio: I have read several of the books but cannot say they are a priority in my reading. I do recall being drawn to read them when Canada’s best national morning radio broadcaster raved about Rankin.

    1. That’s perfectly fine, Bill. We don’t need to appreciate the same book or authors. Our preferences take different paths sometimes and that’s precisely the beauty of our genre.

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