Ian Rankin: I am fascinated by the idea of dual personality

Ian Rankin describes how 'A Clockwork Orange' introduced him to adult reading and discusses his desire to explore the darker side of life.

Ian Rankin is the UK’s number-one bestselling crime writer. His 18th Inspector Rebus novel Standing in Another Man’s Grave is out now. His stand-alone novel Doors Open has been adapted for TV, starring Stephen Fry, and is out now on DVD.

Laidlaw by William McIlvanney

I was dabbling with writing novels when I read this seminal work of Scottish crime fiction. It was far removed from outlandish plots set in English country villages, but set instead in gritty 1980s Glasgow.

Laidlaw was a flawed and believable character, and McIlvanney wrote about class and city life. I saw that a detective could be a good way of exploring moral questions and, although I’d never intended to write crime fiction, my character of John Rebus started to evolve. I took my copy of Laidlaw to a book signing and told McIlvanney about my ideas. He wrote on the inside cover, “Good luck with the Edinburgh Laidlaw.” That’s a precious possession.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

There wasn’t much going on in Cardenden, Fife, where I grew up. But there was a library. I was banned from seeing the films of A Clockwork Orange or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but no one stopped me loaning the books out.

This novel blew me away, not only because of the daring writing and violence it portrayed, but also because it was the first proper book I’d ever read, aged 13. I’d spent my childhood reading comics. A Clockwork Orange propelled me into the world of grown-up reading.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Crime writers ask the question, “Why do humans continue to do bad things to each other?” As any war shows, we’re all capable of atrocities. It’s the desire to explore his darker side that drives Dr Jekyll. I, too, am fascinated by the concept of dual personality—the light and dark in us all. Although Stevenson grew up in Edinburgh’s New Town, he was captivated by the Old Town and would creep out of his home to consort with prostitutes and down-and-outs. So he knew a city could have a split nature. In my novels, Edinburgh is as important a “character” as Rebus himself.