How do the writers of long-running crime fiction deal with the ageing of their lead characters?

By: Alison Thomas

What do detectives do when they get older? Retire to the country? Take up golf or gardening? Not according to top crime writers Ian Rankin, creator of Rebus, and Michael Connelly, author of the Hieronymous (Harry) Bosch novels. The writers, who are also friends, recently featured in a webcast produced by the team at the international crime writing festival Bloody Scotland to discuss the challenges of ageing detectives.

It seems that detectives never really retire and Rebus has already come back from his ‘final’ novel, Exit Music (published in 2007) and is working cold cases. As Rankin puts it, ‘he refused to leave the stage’ and reappeared to the delight of his thousands of fans in Standing in Another Man’s Grave in 2012. In his latest outing, A Song for the Dark Times, Rebus may have relocated to a ground floor flat to save his ageing knees but he has taken some of his old case notes with him and is still involved with the world of Edinburgh policing. However for this novel Rankin explains that he wanted to take Rebus and himself out of their comfort zone and so, when his daughter’s partner goes missing, the detective travels to the north of Scotland to investigate.  The author managed to fit in a fact-finding trip north just before lockdown started and devised a plot featuring a fictitious internment camp based on accounts of the real camps which existed all over the country in World War Two. Rather like Rebus with his box of notes, he keeps a file of possible source material and took inspiration from an old newspaper cutting.

Bosch, working in the sunnier climes of Los Angeles, is also brought back to investigate cold cases, but in The Law of Innocence he is called on to help his half-brother Mickey Haller, also known as the Lincoln Lawyer, to defend himself against a charge of murder. Connelly draws on his background as a journalist to create a thrilling courtroom drama. As well as the Harry Bosch and Lincoln Lawyer series, the prolific Connelly has also written the Renee Ballard novels featuring Bosch’s former LAPD colleague. Like Siobhan Clarke in Edinburgh, she provides fresh energy and a female perspective on the world of policing.

Ian Rankin thought up the title of his latest novel in 2019 with no idea of the global events which were about to unfold. The title reflects current global political and environmental unrest while exploring the harrowing experience of internment and the consequences of intolerance. Connelly had nearly completed The Law of Innocence when the pandemic hit and revised his draft to incorporate real events, creating a sense of impending doom which reflects Haller’s predicament. Both writers have been busy during lockdown. Connelly is involved in discussions to bring Bosch to our TV screens and Rankin scripted a short piece for the Scottish National Theatre called ‘John Rebus: The Lockdown Blues’ with Brian Cox playing the eponymous detective.


Rankin celebrated his 60th birthday during lockdown and, like Connelly who is 64, downsized recently but with books regularly topping the best seller charts neither author is showing any sign of slowing down. As Connelly says of Bosch and Rebus, ‘they have it in their blood’.

For a chance to win a signed copy of Rankin and Connelly’s latest books, check out our Masters of Crime competition.