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an encounter to remember Prateep V Philip
an encounter to remember Prateep V Philip

Ian Rankin on why he's fascinated by crime writing, and the experience of being interviewed by a top cop

Crime writer Ian Rankin delves into evil with glee. Which could explain how he found himself in Rome, getting exorcised by no less than the Chief Exorcist of The Vatican.

“I was interviewing him, and I asked him exactly how he works.”

Apparently, the exorcist suddenly produced a bag and began delving into it, talking in Italian all the while.

“I looked at the translator, and he said: ‘He says he'll show you'.”

It turned out all right though. “Once they got me off the ceiling and scraped the green bile from my mouth, I was fine,” Rankin says wryly, taking a sip of beer. He adds with a shrug: “I told them, for me, that's an average night out.”

Appropriately enough, Rankin — creator of the much-loved perpetually-anarchic Inspector Rebus — is in conversation with Prateep V. Philip, Inspector General of Police held at Taj Connemera, Chennai.

Bestselling-author Rankin is the recipient of four Crime Writers' Association Dagger Awards, with books that are translated into 22 languages. Philip is the pioneer of the internationally-acclaimed Friends of Police movement.

“It's the first time in my career that I've been interviewed by a cop — where I've not been a suspect,” deadpans Rankin, talking about why he's so fascinated by crime writing in a world where happy endings can't be taken for granted. “There are readers who come to crime novels for closure they didn't get in real life.”

While early crime fiction was all about retribution, he says people seem more realistic now. “Readers are much more open to the fact that maybe the bad guy gets away with it.”

This could explain why he's fascinated by the idea of every individual having so much potential for good, as well as evil.

When Philip points out that he seems to follow a template set by Robert Louis Stevenson, Rankin admits he was a huge influence on his writing. Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, he says, was, in turn, inspired by Edinburgh's legendary Deacon Brody, a respectable tradesman and pillar of the community by day and a burglar by night.

“Frustratingly, Stevenson set his novel in London. I really wanted to explore this human possibility for good, and also for evil, in Edinburgh.”

Rankin talks of how tourists to his city only see a magnificent place of cathedrals, monuments and history.

“But, there's a living, breathing city just below which absolutely nobody is talking about.” He's interested in this dichotomy, so similar to human nature: “A cultured Edinburgh and the chaos within.”

It manifests itself constantly, as far as Rankin's concerned.

“I think if you're a writer, you're a schizophrenic personality,” he says, talking of how writing is cathartic. “I'd be dangerous if I didn't write everything down.”

SHONALI MUTHALALY

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