Contented, caring and even teetotal – Rankin unveils a successor to Rebus

... and the crime writer even hints the two may meet up. Jonathan Brown reports

They will never be destined to sit down to share a drink and discuss Leonard Cohen's back catalogue, but Rebus fans can now look forward to meeting his replacement.

Ian Rankin's brooding anti-hero slipped into a melancholy retirement two years ago after patrolling the seamy side of his native Edinburgh for 17 best-selling novels. And now the author has introduced a very different kind of policeman to take over from the hard-drinking, misanthropic detective.

Speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Rankin described his new character, Malcolm Fox, as a man a world away from the maverick who helped him sell hundreds of thousands of books worldwide. "Fox is not a cynic, he is a caring guy who plays by the rules," explained the writer.

For a start Fox does not drink. He is also a "policeman of policemen". The new novel, The Complaints, is set in the Professional Standards Unit at the headquarters of the Lothian and Borders Police in Edinburgh with Fox investigating the activities of his fellow officers.

Rankin has set up the intriguing possibility of a future showdown between his chief protagonists, old and new, suggesting that: "Maybe in book three, Fox could investigate Rebus – that would be interesting."

Though he may have enjoyed a retirement drink – or eight – with his former colleagues at the end of Exit Music in 2007, Rebus will be back at work carrying out cold case reviews on behalf of his old force.

But he will remain very much in the background, working alongside three or four similarly superannuated detectives "just down the hall from the other guy". When, or if, they do eventually come face to face, it will be intriguing to see how the two men get on. Fox is in his 40s – 20 years younger than Rebus. "He's been off the booze a long time, he doesn't listen to music, he's not a loner, he just lives alone, but like Rebus, he is a cop in Edinburgh, so of course there are similarities," he added.

Laying down clues in the run-up to publication, Rankin has described Fox as a "team player, whiter than white." Unlike the gloomy Rebus, he maintains – rather than tests – relationships to destruction. He is close to his father, who lives in a care home, and gets on well with a sister, who lives in Edinburgh.

"He's a good character. I like spending time with him," said Rankin, who is braced for his new creation to be interpreted by fans in a variety of ways. "I am expecting people to say he is too like Rebus, or he is 'Rebus-lite', or 'why is he not Rebus?'" he said.

The latest book is set in contemporary Edinburgh, which Rankin described to the festival audience as "credit crunch ground zero". Fox is affected by the impact of the recession and its fatal fallout as he battles to find the truth about corrupt copper Jamie Breck.

His determination to succeed makes him unpopular at the station and when his own methods come under scrutiny the investigator finds himself with an array of enemies only too eager to see his downfall.

Authors branching out: Detective spin-offs

* PD James' poetry-loving policeman Adam Dalgliesh has proved one of the most enduring characters of the crime genre. But James has earned equal plaudits for her hardboiled female private detective Cordelia Gray, heroine of An Unsuitable Job for a Woman.

* The death of John Thaw robbed the world of one its most alluring detective creations – Colin Dexter's beer-swilling, Bach-humming Inspector Morse. But his put-upon sidekick Lewis has carved his own niche as the promoted inspector in an eponymous TV follow up.

* Sherlock Holmes made Sir Arthur Conan Doyle into a celebrity but by the time of His Last Bow in 1917, Conan Doyle was already developing the character of Professor George Edward Challenger for his science fiction series. Holmes was to make a return in 1927.

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