Ian Rankin Starless & Bible Black:
The Serial Killer Who Refuses to Die
Black and Blue was originally going to be called Obsession, only a perfume manufacturer got there first.
I wanted to get to the dark heart of my hero, Inspector John Rebus, which meant that his drinking was going to have to become a big problem; but I also wanted to push him into obsession. I know that police officers often become obsessed with cases they're working on, and that unsolveds are the worst. So I chose Scotland's most famous unsolved murder inquiry, and a figure who has entered the national consciousness: Bible John.
I invented a twentysomething serial killer, christened Johnny Bible by the media, a demon whose methods seem to mimic those of his spiritual `father'. Bible John murdered three women - maybe more - and then disappeared from the world in 1969. Johnny Bible, operating in the 1990s, ranges far and wide through Scotland. A massive police hunt is underway, but the authorities are clutching at straws, even employing the services of a medium - just as Glasgow police did in the Bible John case.
Clutching at his own straws is Detective Inspector John Rebus. He's been shuffled off to Craigmillar Police Station - nicknamed Fort Apache - to lend a hand in its mothballing. He's also under investigation by a TV company, out to prove a past miscarriage of justice. And for his own personal reasons, he's become obsessed with Bible John.
Bible John: symbol of the rot that set in as the 60s dream turned bad.
Bible John: whose mystery mocks the police and their methods.
Bible John: who has now spawned a creature so like himself... only hungrier.
Rebus finds himself apparently sidetracked by a gruesome death on an Edinburgh housing scheme. The victim is an oil-worker, and the investigation takes Rebus to Aberdeen, the Shetlands, and two-hundred miles out into the North Sea, to an ageing oil production platform, ringed by ecological protesters and harbouring secrets of its own.
But as Rebus closes in on the dead man's killer, he finds himself drawn deeper still into the bloodier, more dangerous world of Johnny Bible.
What I wanted from Bible John was the mythology he has created. For a whole generation, he became the `Bogey Man', something you could be scared of. ("You better watch out - or Bible John will get you!") But as my research progressed, I began to wonder about the individual behind this mythology. What would Bible John be like now? One way to find out was to bring him into the book, to give him his own voice. And it made sense: imitation is not always the sincerest form of flattery, and as Johnny Bible's death-toll rises, so Bible John's stature falls, and with it his identity begins to crumble. If Bible John were still alive, still out there... he'd want to confront the upstart. He'd want that very badly.
Id just finished the first draft of Black and Blue when I learned that police were about to dig up the remains of a suspect in the Bible John case. This was February 1996. They felt that DNA analysis might at last give them Bible John's identity. In the past. I've always been ahead of the news stories. For example, the `magic circle' of lawyers investigated in Hide & Seek became reality two years later, and my thriller Blood Hunt, written in 1994, warned that we'd by no means heard the last of Mad Cow Disease.
I felt a measure of relief when the DNA analysis turned out proving that the suspect could not have been Bible John. It wasn't just that I wouldn't have to change the novel: it was the deeper satisfaction that the myth continued to live. Bible John is almost beyond flesh and blood now. He's an archetype. He belongs to everybody who's ever been afraid in the dark.
And if I've got his character wrong, well, he knows where to find me.
Starless & Bible Black: