IAN RANKIN LOOKS nothing like a multimillionaire. His suits seldom fit, he favours own-brand shirts, and the beige eyeballs signal a well-documented weakness for whisky. Only his nifty new hairdo gives any sniff that he is worth more than a few bob these days. For, since becoming what he calls 'an overnight sensation in 14 years', the creator of Inspector Rebus now commands #1.3 million (HK$18 million) advances for his crime novels about the idiosyncratic Edinburgh detective. A boggling 10 per cent of fiction sold in Britain is now written by him. He even keeps expensive company. Rankin - the son of a grocer - has just moved to live near Harry Potter's outrageously well-to-do creator, J.K. Rowling, who is an old friend. A new edition of one of his best early novels, Watchman (Orion), is about to be released. After being out of print for 15 years, it is set to further widen his readership, although some of the old fans who spent the past decade trading Watchman on the internet for large sums may be less impressed. Not that it will be the first time success has brought trouble for Rankin. On a recent trip back to the tiny Scottish mining community where he grew up, he narrowly avoided getting thumped. 'This guy came up to me and said, 'I ken who you are, ye b******'. He hated me because I'd left, because I'd made it.' Certainly, one suspects such envy is because he is now a rich man. But Rankin, 43, is not one to fritter his money away on extravagances. He values money most for the help it can bring his son. Nine years ago, Kit Rankin was born with Angelman Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. He is blind, suffers from epilepsy, is unlikely ever to walk, and will never speak. 'All this money I'm supposedly getting, all this, 'Oh, Rankin's a multimillionaire, blah, blah, blah', a lot of that is going into a trust for Kit. He's going to need it.' Rankin and his wife Miranda were living in the Dordogne when Kit's condition was diagnosed. They decided, after six years in France, to move back to Edinburgh as they struggled to come to terms with the blow. 'There were a lot of tears and questions. 'Why us?' That sort of thing. But eventually you start to think, 'Well, why not us?' In some ways, it's lucky it didn't happen to another couple. If Kit needs something, we can just buy it. He needed a special bed which cost #2,500. So I just stuck my hand in my pocket. What else is it all for?' Rankin strives to give his son as full a life as possible. Sadly, Kit will never be able to know what he is missing. 'But he has no frustration. He doesn't know what he should be doing as a 'normal' kid. So what he's used to is what he gets - playing with lots of amazing, noisy, cuddly, squeaky, tactile toys. 'At least he's never going to know war or famine, hate or fear, unemployment or relationship break-ups. I'm not even sure he would notice if we went. We've gone off for weeks on end and he just slides back in. He doesn't throw his hands up and go, 'hooray, my parents are back'. As long as somebody's giving him cuddles and looks after him, he's OK.' Rankin appears remarkably sanguine, but he was not always so. Rebus - the focus for much of his grief, guilt and rage - saved him. 'Black And Blue was written during all that pain. And that's maybe why it was a good book,' he says. 'It was a way of avoiding the issues by completely immersing myself in this fictional world. In the novel after that, I spitefully put Rebus' daughter in a wheelchair. I realised afterwards that the only reason I did that was sheer vengeance. But that's what Rebus is there for: to take a buffeting. 'I palm my problems off onto Rebus so I can exorcise most of my demons on the page. I have all these wonderful adventures in my head, these fantasies, so I don't feel the need to go off exploring the world and driving huge, fast cars. I'll put a car chase in a book, instead. 'I think I am well-balanced, outwardly at least. Yes, there's a manic churning going on behind the facade. But all writers are schizoid, aren't they? I mean, I must be, mustn't I? I've got this fantasy figure, this guy called Rebus. And for 10 months of the year, he lives with me. There's something odd about that. 'If I weren't a writer and I said to you, 'I've got this man's voice inside my head, he's a lot older than me and he's a policeman', you'd put me in a psychiatric ward. But write it down and it's, 'OK, you're a creative artist'.' Rebus has lived his life in parallel with Rankin's. In the late 1980s, when the author was living in London with his civil servant wife - then private secretary to Conservative government minister Francis Maude - he was working 12-hour days as editor of a hi-fi magazine, and metaphorically dragged Rebus with him. 'I was miserable, so I wanted him to be miserable as well,' he says. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that Rankin and Rebus have converged on each other over the years. Both are loners, both are too fond of a drink. As Rankin readily admits: 'I can't control the drinking - that's my problem. It's mostly beer and wine. Occasionally whisky. That's the bad one. That's Jekyll and Hyde for me. I have these huge blanks. Chunks of time are gone. It's weird. I am a control freak, but every so often, perhaps once a year, this sudden bender comes along out of the blue. But most of the time I live my life vicariously through Rebus. Without him, I'd be a drunk.' Miranda, meanwhile, keeps Rankin rooted in reality. He clearly adores her - perhaps even fears her a little. He met her - the middle-class daughter of an Irish university professor - when they were students at Edinburgh. She was in the year above him. He was smitten at once. 'She was part of this small, voluble crowd. I belonged to a mousey, Scottish clique who used to just sit quietly and write everything down, learning by rote. They seemed so much more self-aware and confident. And suddenly it all started to make sense. My wife is a wonderful, controlling influence on me. Without Rebus, I'd be in trouble with the booze. Without Miranda, I'd be in trouble with everything. I was a bit of a mess when she met me. She slaps me around and says, 'Get that book written'. 'She's the boss. When we first got together, I was terribly in awe of her. I still am, to a certain extent. She just seemed so controlled and outgoing - everything my Scottish friends weren't. We're so different there's nothing to fall out about. Sometimes people are just too similar in attitude. That's when they don't get on, that's when sparks fly.' This is nothing new. Rankin has always relied on props. But for the tireless support of his mother - a school cook who worked overtime in a canteen to buy books for her son - he might never have become an author. ' I'd sit there, aged about 15, watching all these book programmes on telly, noting what I should be reading - Ian McEwan, [Alexander] Solzhenitsyn, Dante's Inferno. And my mum would go out and buy them all for me. She was - she was wonderful.' Sadly, neither of his fiercely proud parents lived to witness either their son's dazzling success or the birth of his children. His mother died of lung cancer during his first term at university. His 72-year-old father died in his sleep 10 years later, just a year before Rankin's 11-year-old son Jack was born. 'I was only 18 when my mother died. It was so sad. She was only in her late 50s. They'd only just got rid of me and were preparing to retire. They were going to travel, do stuff. But her body just seemed to say, 'That's it, the kids have gone, I'm giving up now'.' Her premature death made him even more determined to succeed. After nearly 20 years as a published writer - and 15 Rebus novels - he has achieved huge success. But the riches it has brought him in turn bring him mixed feelings. 'Yes, I'm doing all right, but not as well as some. People are always getting me and [fellow Scottish novelist] Iain Banks confused. Even the taxman. They once sent him one of my demands by mistake. I told him, 'If I start getting yours, then I'm really in trouble'. 'He spends his time driving round the Highlands in his fleet of Porsches. And yes, part of me would love to do that. But my Presbyterian guilt keeps kicking in. I don't know what it says about me that I worked this out, but I earned more last year than my dad earned in his entire working life. 'We're not flash. The money either goes to the taxman or it gets salted away. Yes, I've got a few bottles of good single malt, but I drive around in an old Volvo estate. OK, we've got a holiday house in the Dordogne, but it's not brilliant - we've not got a swimming pool.' Not terribly convincing. And he knows it. It is almost as if he is only beginning to realise that yes, in fact, he is doing rather more than 'all right'. He thinks for a moment, scratches his chin thoughtfully. 'Aye, maybe that's what we'll do, build a swimming pool.'