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Ian Rankin: 'Murder Island is a lot of fun!’

Ian Rankin writes 'Murder Island'.
Rebus author Ian Rankin pits his wits against amateur detectives in 'Murder Island'. (Image credit: © Hamish Brown/Channel 4)

Murder Island is a game show with a difference. The C4 show sees eight members of the public with a passion for whodunnits working in teams of two to solve a baffling mystery penned by Rebus author Ian Rankin.

The six-parter, airing weekly from Tuesday, Oct. 5 at 9.30pm, centres around the discovery of the body of a young woman who has recently arrived on the fictional Scottish island of Hirsa. But how did she die and who killed her? 

As the amateur sleuths try to crack the case and win £50,000 by quizzing a host of suspects, their progress is monitored by three real-life retired detectives and the least successful crime solvers will be eliminated from the show.

We interrogated Ian Rankin to get the lowdown on Murder Island...

'Murder Island' is so intriguing! What appealed to you about it?

“Nothing like this has been done before where it's a blend of a game show and this fictional whodunnit but you're also learning how the police go about this. It's like dropping real people into Broadchurch!”

The detectives in Murder Island.

The detectives sift through the clues in 'Murder Island'. (Image credit: © Hamish Brown/Channel 4)

How did you come up with the story?

“It’s set on Hirsa, a fictional island with a small community. You've got incomers and locals so there are tensions and it's hard to keep secrets. I drew on my own experiences of trying to blend into a community because I’ve had a home in Cromarty for over 10 years, but I still don't quite feel like a local. I also looked at the pressures of land reform and eco-tourism. It was a lot of fun!”

What were the challenges of writing this compared to penning a novel?

“You've got real people who can go off at any tangent they want. So we needed actors [who play the suspects] who are skilled at improvisation. And I had to factor in as many possible trajectories as I could. But I wasn’t going to be in control. I tend not to do much plotting before writing my books because I don't know the story until I've written it. But this required detailed planning, it was a steep learning curve.”

How well do the amateur detectives do?

“They’re so engaging but there were pieces of evidence they didn't find! You saw their faces fall because they realise this is harder than they thought. They learn from their mistakes though. I love the fact that the retired detectives treat them like real cops and say, ‘You messed that up!’ But they also give tips as to how they’d investigate.” 

The amateur detectives on Murder Island.

The budding detectives get ready to solve the case in 'Murder Island'. (Image credit: © Hamish Brown/Channel 4)

Are you hoping this will get people guessing at home?

“I’d love that. I'm going to be watching reactions on Twitter. And I’ll be tuned to Gogglebox because people on there love murder mysteries and sit with a pad and pen trying to beat the detectives. We’ll keep pulling the carpet out from under you though! The detectives on screen – and at home – will have to rethink their preconceptions.” 

How would you do on 'Murder Island'?

“I'd be dreadful! Occasionally I go to murder mystery evenings and I’m hopeless. I can fix everything on the page but in real life I’d be walking through the bloodstains and I wouldn't find clues. Even when I play Cluedo, I guess too early and never get it right!”