According to Ian Rankin, John Rebus was born in 1947 and grew up in a pre-fabricated house in Craigmead Terrace, Cardenden, Fife (Rankin’s home town), the son of a stage hypnotist. His grandfather was an immigrant from Poland. He grew up in a terraced house along with his brother, Michael.

He left school at the age of fifteen and joined the Army, one of the few mainstream career options open to young men of the area, the others being coal-mining or working at Rosyth Dockyard, whilst his brother followed in their father’s footsteps. After serving in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, he applied to undergo selection for the SAS. After passing selection – where Rebus excelled – he and a colleague were selected for further training for a secretive elite programme, training which eventually prompted Rebus to resign from the SAS and which spurred a nervous breakdown. Following lobbying from the Army, Rebus was given a position with Lothian and Borders Police in order to recover from the trauma. He went to Summerhall as a detective constable in November 1982. In many of his books Rebus works from the St Leonard’s Police Station in Edinburgh.

Ian Rankin prefers to leave the physical appearance of his characters to the reader’s imagination, although when Rebus is first introduced in Knots and Crosses, we learn that he has brown hair and green eyes, like his brother. His rough lifestyle means that his clothes are often less than immaculate. He has been severely burned, was in a car crash and suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in retirement.

Alexander Morton played Rebus in a 1999 BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Let It Bleed. Ron Donachie starred as Rebus in BBC Radio 4’s dramatizations of The Falls (2008), Resurrection Men (2008), Strip Jack (2010), The Black Book (2012), Black and Blue (2013), “Rebus Set in Darkness” (2014), Qestion of blood (2016) and Fleshmarket Close (2017)