Doing jigsaws with Ian Rankin

Simon Willis in 1843 Magazine:

“Whose teeth are these?” asks Ian Rankin, in a state of deep concentration. It’s the kind of ghoulish question that might be asked by John Rebus, the hard-drinking Scottish detective from Rankin’s bestselling novels, as he sifts through the evidence at a grisly crime scene. Fortunately, the disembodied teeth he is looking at are on a piece from a jigsaw, which we’re doing “together” over Zoom. The puzzle is inspired by “The Yellow Submarine”, an animated film from 1968 in which the Beatles save the underwater world of Pepperland from music-hating monsters called the Blue Meanies. The picture on the box shows the yellow submarine surrounded by psychedelic characters, from the Dreadful Flying Glove to the Fab Four themselves in loud shirts and flares. On the right is a smiling green whale. “Ah, they’re his teeth!” says Rankin as he slots the piece into place.

Hunched over a coffee table in the Edinburgh flat he uses as an office, Rankin is rake-thin with the pale, haunted look of a man with murder on his mind. At 60, he has written more than 40 books and sold more than 30m copies. Rebus, his greatest invention, stars in over half of them. A cold, cynical workaholic given to brawling and witness intimidation, Rebus will stop at nothing to solve whatever case of garrotting, stabbing, drowning or impaling has ended up on his desk.

For someone whose day job is crafting intricate plots full of interlocking clues, puzzles seem to be a natural pastime. Rankin says he has been a jigsaw fanatic since he was a child, and lockdown has hardened this habit. “I had this notion that I would learn languages and read ‘Don Quixote’, but my attention span was kinnae shot,” he says in his thick Scottish accent (“kinnae” instead of “kind of”, “mebbae” instead of “maybe”).

Rankin does not consider himself a puzzle aficionado. “They go for 5,000-piece jigsaws of paperclips,” he says. “Why would anyone do that for fun?” For him, 1,000 pieces and an appealing picture is ideal. On Twitter he has been showing off his jigsaw portraits of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. He sees himself as a “frustrated rock star” and sings in a band in his spare time. “When I saw the yellow submarine I thought, yeah, that’s a shoe-in.”

More here.