A TV drama based on Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus tale Black and Blue will awaken interest in new Edinburgh city tours. Kristy Dorsey explains

ALTHOUGH Edinburgh's Old Town is awash with tours highlighting the seamier side of days long gone by, visitors seeking a modern-day look at the capital's grittier elements have been left for the most part to stumble into discoveries of some of the fascinating, albeit less-polished, aspects of the city.

Promises of witchcraft, ghosts, and hidden vaults abound along the signboards lining the Royal Mile, and draw in tourists by the busload. Those more inclined towards maritime pursuits can be guided around historic Leith, complete with tales of ''royal visits, piracy, plague'' and, of course, more witchcraft. And while a highly-acclaimed literary pub tour will touch upon the likes of Irvine Welsh, its bread and butter lies in older tales such as Jekyll and Hyde and the lives of Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, and other long-deceased writers.

Spying a niche in this market, Scottish-born tour guide John Skinner is preparing to take visitors on excursions revolving around the city's most famous modern tartan-noir character.

Rebustours get underway on May 1, offering fans of the morally sceptical detective created by local author Ian Rankin a close-up view of the Edinburgh that tourism forgot. Following the fictional life of Inspector John Rebus, Skinner hopes to tap into the worldwide appeal of this dark character living on the grubbier edge of this world-famous city.

''It's all very topical, because coming up is the screening of the film with John Hannah,'' Skinner said last week. ''I've seen the film, and it is great, and John Hannah is great as Rebus.''

Skinner hopes to ride upon what is expected to be a resounding success for the film version of Black and Blue, the novel in which Rebus finds himself obsessed by the Bible John killings while working on a contemporary case. Filmed by Scottish Television and airing tomorrow night, the two-hour drama will be followed by

an adaptation of The Hanging

Garden in the autumn.

Whether the Rebus films will be turned into a series depends upon ratings for the two TV dramas. However, the buzz around the project has been good, as reflected by Skinner's high hopes.

''When friends ask me what I think (of the upcoming film), I say this is going to be to Edinburgh what Inspector Morse was to Oxford,'' he said, noting that the ITV drama had led to the establishment of ''Morse tours'' in that city.

Formerly a tour guide for the Cockburn Association - an

Edinburgh-based conservation society focused upon architectural concerns - Skinner found himself picking up Rebus novel Strip Jack from his local library during a spell of unemployment last autumn. By Christmas he had read the entire series

of 10 books, and was anxiously awaiting the release of

the eleventh, Set in Darkness,

in March.

''I'm not a crime anorak at all,'' said Skinner from the starting point of his ''Water of Death'' tour, one of three on offer. ''I just picked one up at the library one day, and I was hooked.

''I had been reading the Ian Rankin novels, I suppose, since the autumn and suddenly something clicked. I said, here is a great niche market.''

He started by phoning Rankin's London-based publishers at Orion, and was pleasantly surprised to find that no-one else had yet hit upon the idea. Orion advised Skinner to contact Rankin directly. He did, and the two met on three separate occasions to discuss the idea.

The entire project is being launched on a shoestring budget, making Skinner quick to pick up on any marketing opportunity. So when James Thin asked Skinner to come up with a nine-question quiz on the Rebus novels for World Book Day on March 12, he

readily agreed. Weeks later, he still chuckles when recalling that the author himself could answer only seven correctly.

While Rebus exists nowhere outside the pages of Rankin's

novels, the author's strict adherence to realistic settings plays directly into Skinner's hands. Depending on which tour they choose, fans of the novels may get a sighting of the home of John Rebus in Marchmont, a look around the St Leonard's police

station where he works, or a tour of the Dean Valley and Warriston Cemetery, the scenes of various crimes investigated by Rebus.

Groups making arrangements ahead of time may also travel further afield as far as South Queensferry and Fife, as Rankin hails from Cardenden.

''What I'm trying to do is show people a different side of Edinburgh,'' he said. ''I want to reflect Ian's tremendous knowledge of Edinburgh. He knows Edinburgh like the back of his hand.

''He talks about different parts of the city. He's talking about Pilton, and Wester Hailes, and he talks about North Queensferry and South Queensferry.''

Tour A, the John Rebus ''background walking tour'', takes visitors from Edinburgh University's Old Quad at South Bridge to the old city mortuary in Cowgate and on to St Leonard's police station. It then crosses over to Rebus's ''home'' at Arden Street in Marchmont, and then on to the Royal Infirmary, where the inspector is a frequent visitor.

Tour B, which Skinner has dubbed the ''Water of Death Tour'', meets at Stockbridge before going on to St Bernard's Well and Dean Bridge. The latter is the site where Rebus finds a body in The Hanging Garden although, as Skinner points out, many real-life deaths have occurred at the same location.

HE ADDED: ''This was built in 1832, and by the turn of the century, 140 people had jumped off the top committing suicide. You might see the newer stonework at the side there, where they raised the barrier in an attempt to stop that from happening.''

The Water of Death Tour then goes on through Edinburgh's New Town to finish at the Oxford Bar, one of several frequented by the hard-drinking Rebus.

n All Rebustours run for two hours and must be pre-booked by dialling 0131 555 3065. Walking tours cost #7.50 per adult, with prices for half-day coach tours starting at #15 per person.