SCANNING the audience, crime writing legend Ian Rankin glanced up nervously to see if the face of a killer was staring back at him.
The creator of hardened detective Inspector Rebus — played on TV by John Hannah and Ken Stott — feared he might spy a man matching the photofit of serial murderer Bible John.
His 1997 breakthrough novel Black And Blue had examined the potential identity of the strangler, who is Scotland’s equivalent of Jack the Ripper.
The murderer slayed three young women in Glasgow between 1968 and 1969, earning his nickname by supposedly quoting from the Bible to his victims.
And when he was growing up, Ian’s mum would tell him not to stay out late because “Bible John will get you”.
Now the writer was sweating over the possibility that the killer, who has never been apprehended, had come to pay him a visit.
Ian, 61, tells The Sun: “I was nervous when I was doing the book tour.
“I kept my eyes open for someone who looked a bit like the photofit of Bible John 40 years on, just in case he was sitting in the audience and wanted a word with me afterwards.”
Delving into the minds of criminals turned Ian Rankin from a struggling writer into a multi-millionaire author whose novels account for ten per cent of all crime book sales in the UK.
Edinburgh-born Ian, whose mum Isobel was a school dinner lady and dad James a grocer, now earns a seven-figure sum for each book.
And while researching his first Rebus novel Knots And Crosses, which earned him just £500 in 1987, he became a suspect in a multiple homicide inquiry.
Ian had written to a chief constable asking if he could speak to some detectives so that his book would be more realistic.
He recalls: “I got a letter back saying go to this police station and these two detectives will talk to you.
“They asked me what the plot of my first book was. I told them and they realised they were working on a case which was pretty similar.
“So I became a person of interest and my details went into the computer.
‘I NEVER WORK OUT WHAT IS GOING IN COP SHOWS’
“I thought I was going along there to get their help, but they were treating me as a suspect.”
Since then, he has written 24 more books about the world-weary, heavy drinking detective — but his latest tale is a completely different take on the crime genre.
Murder Island is a six-part reality TV show starting Tuesday night on Channel 4 which features a plot and characters penned by Ian.
Four pairs of contestants each stand to win £50,000 if they are the first to bring the killer to justice on Gigha, a remote island off the west coast of Scotland.
Three genuine detectives, who don’t know the identity of the murderer, are on hand to show the amateur sleuths where they are going wrong.
While Ian knows who the killer is and their motives, he has no control over how the detectives behave.
He says: “What happens if they guess early on or go off on completely the wrong tangent?”
The concept is timely, given how many people want to play detective these days.
The disappearance of US tourist Gabby Petito in August while on a road trip across the States with her fiance led to an army of keyboard investigators trying to solve the case.
And there has been a huge growth in YouTube channels and podcasts dedicated to solving real-life crimes.
'WE ARE ENDLESSLY FASCINATED BY MYSTERIES'
Ian thinks humans are hard-wired to want to find answers to shocking cases.
He says: “As a species we are endlessly fascinated by mysteries and we want to try to solve mysteries and we crave closure and we want things to be explained to us.”
Relatives of murder victims sometimes reach out to Ian in the hope that he can help.
Ian explains: “Occasionally someone will contact me whose family member has been the victim of a crime, and they’ve not felt it has been dealt with satisfactorily by the police.
“I have got to put my hands up and tell them, ‘I can’t, I don’t have the tools to help you get justice’.”
And he admits he has no idea who the culprit is when he sits down to watch TV whodunits such as Broadchurch.
Ian adds: “People assume because you’re a crime writer you can solve the mystery quickly, but I never do.
“I never work out what is going on in these TV cop shows.
“I always guess too early when I am playing Cluedo, and the few times I have been to these murder mystery dinners in a hotel I have always got it wrong.”
The prolific author had planned to slow down his output prior to the pandemic.
Ian’s contract stipulated he would produce one book every two years — but lockdown left him with so much time for writing he has torn up the deal so he can produce more.
He brought out A Song For Dark Times last October and completed a manuscript written by the late author William McIlvanney called The Dark Remains this year.
On top of that he penned the Murder Island story, worked on two Rebus stage plays and is about to start writing another novel.
‘I GOT TO PLAY GOD AND THAT WAS THERAPEUTIC’
Ian reveals: “When Covid came along I got busier than ever, because all the time I got writing I didn’t have to think about the pandemic.
“I got to play God and that was therapeutic because in the real world I had no control.”
Coronavirus posed a significant threat to his 26-year-old son Kit, who is in a care home and requires specialist help. He is unable to walk or talk and is blind due to the genetic condition Angelman syndrome.
Ian and his wife Miranda were not allowed to hug their son for fear of infecting him.
In the early stages of the pandemic, almost six out of ten UK deaths were among people with disabilities.
Ian campaigned for seriously disabled people to receive their coronavirus jab earlier than the bulk of the population.
Ian says: “When everybody was focused on care homes for the elderly, younger people who were seriously disabled in care homes were completely forgotten about.
“Some families had to fight hard for people with disabilities to be moved up the list for vaccination.”
Kit is now double jabbed, although he is still at risk because the vaccine only reduces the chance of infection rather than preventing it completely.
Ian hopes that everyone who is offered the vaccine will take it, so that his son and others like them can live normal lives again.
He says: “We just have to hope that everybody gets double jabbed, everybody gets their boosters and my son can enjoy life back in society again.”
It is only recently that Kit has been allowed out of the confines of his care facility.
He says: “They’ve just started taking him into the community a bit and giving him therapies. For a year and a half he wasn’t getting any therapy of any sorts whatsoever.”
As for Murder Island, Ian believes his latest project could end up keeping him as busy as Rebus. He thinks the format for the show will prove to be so popular that it could spread across the world.
Ian says: “I am hoping it will be a huge hit so we can spin it off. I would love to get a second series — and who knows — why not a Murder Island USA or Murder Island Australia?”
- Murder Island begins on Channel 4 tonight at 9.30pm.
Sleuths on trail for £50k
EIGHT amateur sleuths compete to identify a killer on Murder Island – with a £50,000 prize up for grabs.
The show’s contestants are taken to the body of fictional character Charly Hendricks at a rundown property she had been renting from a local landlord.
They are given protective forensic suits and allowed to search for clues to solve the case, the plot of which is written by Inspector Rebus creator Ian.
Three real-life detectives will guide them in the art of finding evidence and point out where they may be going wrong.
Former Met chief superintendent Parm Sandhu will be on hand with her deputies Simon Harding and Graham McMillan, both of whom used to be police detectives.
In the first week, some of the sleuths prove to be more Inspector Clouseau than Sherlock Holmes by stepping in blood.
But they have five more episodes of the Channel 4 series – filmed over the summer – to hone their mystery-solving skills.
The sleuths are allowed to question anyone on the island, including a cast of actors playing potential suspects.
Later, real-life lawyers will assess the cases they put together to see whether their evidence would stand up in court.
The TV audience will get to guess along with the contestants and the police officers before the whodunit is revealed at the end of the series.
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