[Book Review] Knots and Crosses

Knots_and_Crosses_coverTitle: Knots and Crosses (Inspector Rebus novels, #1)
Author: Ian Rankin
Genre: Detective, Crime fiction
Published: 1987 by Orion Publishing Group
Source: Purchased


Here’s a description from the author’s website:

‘And in Edinburgh of all places. I mean, you never think of that sort of thing happening in Edinburgh, do you…?’

That sort of thing… is the brutal abduction and murder of two young girls. And now a third is missing, presumably gone to the same sad end. Detective Sergeant John Rebus, smoking and drinking too much, his own young daughter spirited away south by his disenchanted wife, is one of many policemen hunting the killer. And then the messages begin to arrive: knotted string and matchstick crosses – taunting Rebus with pieces of a puzzle only he can solve.

A QUICK 411… Knots and Crosses is the first in a long-running series of novels with Detective Sergeant John Rebus (Detective Inspector in subsequent novels) as the main character. There are 17 or 19 novels to date. That’s quite a number. I read that he also grows older over the years, such that in one of his novels (the 17th, I think), he’s reached retirement age.


Rebus was a pretty interesting character who loved books and music. He previously served in the Army and Special Air Service (SAS) before working as a police officer. His father was a stage hypnotist and his brother followed in their father’s footsteps (and also has a secret of his own). His relationship with his brother is quite strained. He has a daughter and an ex-wife. The book (and other novels) are set in Edinburgh, Scotland, which makes for another interesting point.

The story starts off with a short chapter about the killer and his recent crime, but soon after the case was pretty slow to build. There’s mention of the case here and there, and Rebus got assigned to the case eventually. But it was still slow, I think. I might even say the story wasn’t really too focused on the case. There was police work and some investigating weaved through the chapters, but there wasn’t really that much investigating going on (re: leads, suspects, clues and such). The story was more about Rebus, his day-to-day life, his work at the station, his family, background info, some flings, etc. (perhaps because it’s the first book and some character building is warranted?) It wasn’t until halfway through or later that the case reached its peak with terrible things happening all at once.

I found it a little odd that Rebus didn’t really give much attention to the notes with strings in knots and matchsticks in crosses being mailed to him at the station (and later even slipped through his house door). He was a bit curious, but ultimately just shrugged it off as some kind of practical joke from someone.

Another thing I found a bit telling and odd is that he kept remembering a name, some screaming, and a few bits and pieces of painful memory from his past. Eventually, things would turn out to be connected to the other and the killer revealed to be a broken person/psychopath with a grudge.


This is the first novel by Ian Rankin that I’ve ever read. I picked up this particular title because it was the first in the series of Inspector Rebus novels; so I thought, why not begin with the one that started it all? The case was slow to build, but there were plenty of background information about Rebus and some of the other characters. I wasn’t too quick to guess who the killer was, but figured as much that it had something to do with Rebus’ past.

I liked Mr. Rankin’s way of storytelling and Rebus was a relatively interesting bloke to read about, but I didn’t find the case to be very engaging. Maybe because there wasn’t as much investigating or action as I had expected. I’m just glad I bought it at a secondhand bookshop, so I got it cheap.

Perhaps the other Rebus novels would be more engaging. I don’t mind reading another one, but not to the point of buying a brand new book at full price. There’s quite a lot of titles to choose from, though, and I doubt I’d read all of them. If you’ve read any of the Rebus books and you’ve got any recommendations on which title I should read next, please feel free to suggest. 🙂

*As a side note, I was reminded of Cormoran Strike a bit when I read about DS Rebus. Mind you, I read The Cuckoo’s Callingfirst before I read any Rebus novels. If it were the other way around, I would’ve probably been reminded of Rebus when I read Strike. Anyway, enough of my babbling.

6 thoughts on “[Book Review] Knots and Crosses

      • 😀 If you haven’t gotten around yet to reading Ms. Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, I think that’s pretty good. Not so sure if Holes by Louis Sachar is considered a mystery, but it’s not too thick and a bit unique… it could be professorish enough of a story.

      • I’ll have to read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

        As for Holes, the professor loves that story! I think Sachar did an awesome job tying all those plots together. My favorite character is probably Madam Zeroni. 😆 How about you?

      • And when you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts about it. 🙂

        Yes, he did! It was a nice read and I liked how everything came full circle. Madam Zeroni is an interesting character! Elya shouldn’t have forgotten his promise 😆 My favorite is probably Kissin’ Kate Barlow.

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