The Inspector Rebus novel series has been a huge hit for author Ian Rankin following its first entry, Knots and Crosses, in 1987.

The gritty depiction of Edinburgh and its world-weary, '60s rock-loving protagonist quickly earned a legion of fans, giving rise to several adaptations over the years, one of which was an ITV series with John Hannah and Ken Stott in the titular role between 2000 and 2007.

And after a lengthy stint away, the Scottish detective has once again been given the small screen treatment, this time by acclaimed playwright and screenwriter Gregory Burke, who has mined characters and ideas from the books to tell an original story for the BBC,

Here, Rebus (Richard Rankin) is in his early 40s, and the action unfolds in a modern setting.

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"They are built on the Rebus novels, which is such an amazing foundation to work from," said star Brian Ferguson. "But then I think what's really exciting is that at the beginning of this, Ian Rankin did say to Gregory Burke, 'You take these and make them yours.'

"So they do feel like a response to the original novels rather than a faithful adaptation."

Read on to find out how the BBC reboot stands apart from the novels.

How the BBC's Rebus differs from the book series

Richard Rankin as John Rebus in Rebus. He is wearing a t-shirt and dark jacket and staring straight at the camera, with Edinburgh Castle out of focus in the background.
Richard Rankin as John Rebus in Rebus. BBC/Viaplay /Eleventh Hour/Mark Mainz

One of the most notable details is the expansion of Michael's role.

In the novels, Rebus's brother features early on, but his involvement becomes more peripheral as they progress. However here, army veteran Michael (Brian Ferguson) robs a local gangster in a bid to solve his financial woes, thrusting Rebus, who's working on a case with ties to his brother's lawlessness, into an intensely compromising position.

Alongside Michael, Rebus's ex-wife Rhona (Amy Manson) and young daughter Sammy (Mia McKenzie), who feature sporadically in the books, have also been given larger roles, which juxtaposes with the solitary Rebus we often get in Rankins's writing.

In the six-part series, DC Siobhan Clarke (Lucie Shorthouse) has recently joined the service as part of the accelerated leadership pathway, and as is the case in the novels, her relationship with her more seasoned colleague is initially on the frostier side. But that gradually thaws as the duo settle into more of a mentor-mentee relationship.

In the books, Siobhan and Rebus's relationship is among the most important following her introduction in the fifth instalment, The Black Book. And here too, Shiv's contributions to the investigation and her evolving dynamic with Rebus play an crucial role.

Siobhan getting out of a car
Siobhan (Lucie Shorthouse) in Rebus. Eleventh Hour Films/Mark Mainz

Shiv is allied closely with Malcolm Fox (Thoren Ferguson), from the Professional Standards division, who is on the lookout for corrupt behaviour within the force. Fox had yet to be written during the timespan of the original Rebus series, making his first appearance in the non-Rebus novel The Complaints in 2009, and crossing over into the main series's 19th novel, Saints of The Shadow Bible, in 2013.

Given that the BBC version of Rebus is set in the present day, Fox's presence chimes with the reality of modern-day policing.

And he isn't the only character from late-on in the books who makes an appearance. Businessman Darryl Christie (Noof Ousellam), who was first introduced in 2012, appears in a supporting role.

As with the novels, he has ties to the criminal underworld, namely Big Ger Cafferty (Stuart Bowman), who is a major antagonist in Rankins's writing as he moves in and out of Rebus's life, the two occasionally doing one another favours.

Cafferty also doesn't enter properly into the series until the fifth book but here, he is introduced in the opening scene, the unorthodox relationship between the detective and the big-shot gangster remaining firmly in tact.

There's also a new addition in Maggie (Michelle Duncan), the wife of his mentor George (Sean Buchanan), with whom he's having an affair, which adds an interesting additional layer. This is perhaps in place of his relationship with boss DI Gill Templer (Caroline Lee Johnson) from the books, their relationship here strictly professional.

Rebus stood leaning on a metal railing in Edinburgh city centre
Rebus. Eleventh Hour Films/Mark Mainz

While remaining faithful to the world Rankin has created, capturing the spirit of his 24-strong book collection – a 25th is due this year – Burke's decision to go in a different direction by merging the old with the new has allowed this iteration of Rebus to differentiate itself and be judged on its own merits.

There's plenty for long-term fans to pore over – Rebus remains a regular at The Oxford Bar, and while we don't get shots of him listening his beloved record collection, there are nods to his love of music – but the fresh spin on those core characters and elements make this version of Rebus open to all.

Rebus starts on Friday 17th May on BBC iPlayer. All episodes will be available on BBC iPlayer from 6am, with episode one airing on BBC Scotland on Friday 17th May at 10pm and on BBC One on Saturday 18th May at 9:25pm.


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