Ian Rankin wrote two non-Rebus novels between Knots and Crosses and Hide and Seek, and it shows. In the second John Rebus novel there is an augmented confidence to his prose, a definite refinement of his storytelling, as Rankin’s journey towards becoming an acclaimed International Bestseller continued.
In Hide and Seek, Rebus investigates the death of a junkie, whose body is discovered in a ramshackle Edinburgh squat. On paper, it’s hardly a case worthy of the newly promoted John Rebus; but the arrangement of the body – spread-eagled like a cross, positioned between two burned-down candles, and beside a five-pointed star painted on the wall – piques his curiosity. How does the dead man’s last word – “Hide!” connect? Is this murder the work of a devil-worshipping cult? What sordid evil has risen from the city’s underbelly? And how long has it existed? Rebus quickly discovers its darkness permeates the highest echelons of Edinburgh.
Rankin has since admitted Hide and Seek was his second attempt at updating Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hide, which is a grand ideal, but thankfully not one that straddles the text too heavily (despite each chapter opening with a quote from Stevenson’s work). At its core, Hide and Seek is a taut, snaking mystery, punctuated with the gallows humour that made Rebus so resonant in his debut. It lacks the complexity of its successors, but it is a superb demonstration of a writers’ development.