Scottish crime drama is booming with Scandinavian streaming service Viaplay announcing new TV adaptation of Ian Rankin's Rebus tales – Brian Ferguson

In the midst of a gloomy autumn for Scottish culture, each dose of good news has been a welcome tonic to write about in recent weeks.

Crime writer Ian Rankin has just released his 24th John Rebus novel and confirmed plans for a new TV adaptation (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)
Crime writer Ian Rankin has just released his 24th John Rebus novel and confirmed plans for a new TV adaptation (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)

That description would certainly apply to the long-awaited new incarnation of Ian Rankin’s celebrated detective John Rebus. The worlds of film and TV can be notoriously slow-moving – until the green light is given for a project to go into production.

This was most certainly the case with an adaptation of the best-selling books, which was announced five years ago, along with the tantalising news that playwright and screenwriter Gregory Burke was attached to the project. I have lost count of the number of times Rankin has since been asked about the project at events, most recently a few weeks ago at the launch of his latest novel at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh.

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It is now 15 years since the last Rebus series made it onto the small screen. Although fans of Rebus approved much more of Ken Stott in the lead role than a much younger John Hannah, Rankin was none too pleased at how few of his books actually ended up going out in the end. His long-held ambition was for Rebus to be turned into the kind of long-form crime drama that has taken off dramatically over the last decade or so.

His patience seems to have been rewarded with the announcement that Scandinavian streaming service Viaplay has chosen Rebus as its first drama commission in the UK. When I caught up with Rankin and Burke, just before the announcement which described them as “the dream duo”, they were understandably relishing the prospect of a reinvention of Rebus as a thirtysomething detective whose travails will unfold in modern-day Edinburgh.

If the landscape of the city is much changed from the Edinburgh of the 1980s and 1990s that Rebus navigated in Rankin’s early novels, it is also a much-changed landscape in the worlds of Scottish crime drama. It is worth recalling the huge gap that was left behind after the last series of Taggart aired in 2010. For a long time it was left to Shetland, which launched three years later, to fly the flag.

It has proved so enduring that the BBC has confirmed it will be continuing without its star, Douglas Henshall, after his seventh and final series. It was certainly not always like this, but these days it is hard to keep up with the comings and goings of TV drama in Scotland. Neil Forsyth’s Guilt and Irvine Welsh’s Crime have both been filming recently thanks to audience demand.

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Author Jenni Fagan has been brought in to take Welsh’s notorious Begbie character and turn him into the subject of his own drama. And the north-east is set to take centre stage in the next show to hit the small screen when new police drama Granite Harbour arrives on BBC One, with rising stars Romario Simpson and Hannah Donaldson, Hiftu Quasem and Caroline Degya appearing alongside the likes of Dawn Steele, Ron Donachie and Gary Lewis.

Rebus may be be entering a crowded field when it finally airs in the next couple of years but seems no shortage of appetite for tales reflecting the darker side of Scotland.