A Modern Edinburgh Mystery

Published in Fest, August 9 2011

The shadowy wynds of Edinburgh—the scene of the Burke and Hare murders and the setting for thriller stories created by writers such as crime master Ian Rankin—are no stranger to mystery. The newest Rankin enigma, though, is not one of his grisly bestsellers, but a series of elaborate sculptures made by a hitherto unknown artist.

Back in March, staff at the National Poetry Library—which features in Rankin’s book, Exit Music—found an incredibly intricate paper tree left on a table, hundreds of circles cut from books piled on one another to form the trunk, with shreds of pages twisted into leaves and a tiny paper bird’s nest in the branches. Referring to the title of the Patrick Geddes poem that forms the library’s Twitter name, a cryptic note left beside the sculpture reads, “It started with your name, @ByLeavesWeLive, and became a tree. We know that a library is so much more than a building full of books; a book is so much more than pages full of words. In support of libraries, books, words, ideas: a gesture – poetic, maybe.”

The library’s Lillias Hughes told The Guardian, “It’s just a joy. It’s such a beautiful and magical thing to find. I cannot believe someone’s made it and left it to be discovered – that’s the most magical thing. This is like when you stumble across a poem you’ve never read before and it takes you out at the knee caps because there’s something about it that means a lot to you. I just can’t get over what a beautiful symbol it is.”

Just as the buzz started to die down, a further three sculptures appeared. The National Library received a coffin and a gramophone cut from the pages of Exit Music, apparently a reference to Rankin’s work and the threat faced by library closures. The Filmhouse cinema received a scale model of a cinema with paper knights on horseback leaping spectacularly out of the screen at the audience—amongst whom was a miniature Rankin—and the Scottish Storytelling Centre found a large egg, out of which emerged a dragon rampant, carved from pages of Rankin’s Knots and Crosses.  Each comes with a similar message of thanks for the recipients’ work in supporting books and learning.

Rankin admits to being baffled as to who is behind the project and rejects claims that it is a part of a marketing campaign for a future book, but admits that whoever it is, he or she has an intimate knowledge of his books.

This is one Rankin mystery that, for the time being at least, remains unsolved.

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