Orion £18.99 (428pp) £17.09 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Complaints, By Ian Rankin
Friday 28 August 2009
Slipping between the pages of an Ian Rankin novel is like pulling on a comfortable old jacket. But rather than the crumpled cigarette packet or empty quarter of single malt one might expect to find in the pockets, in The Complaints it's more likely to be a can of Irn Bru and a salad roll. This is the first novel to feature Malcolm Fox, a very different kind of policeman to Rankin's famously hard-living and much-loved John Rebus.
Comparing the two characters is unavoidable, and Rankin is well aware of the furore his new creation will create. He has even intimated that Fox and Rebus may cross paths at some future point. What they will make of each other is anyone's guess – Fox is divorced with no children, in his forties, lives alone and likes to listen to birdsong on the radio rather than Seventies LPs.
He regularly visits his father in a nursing home and tries to help his sister who, it quickly becomes apparent, is in an abusive relationship. Fox, as a recovering alcoholic, doesn't drink - so it's warm tomato juice in Minter's rather than a pint in the Oxford Bar.
But the biggest difference is in the crimes they investigate. Fox works for the Professional Standards Unit at the Lothian and Borders Police in Edinburgh, aka The Complaints. His remit is to bang up bent cops rather than gangland giants, a watchman of watchmen and exposer of the inner workings of law enforcement. We meet Fox as he's completed a case against a high-ranking officer – an investigation that has made him enemies across the force.
He's asked to look into child pornography allegations against a young high-flyer, Jamie Breck, but Fox's objectivity – and innocence – is drawn into question when his sister's boyfriend is found murdered and Breck is one of the investigating officers. Fox finds himself warming to Breck but their tentative friendship threatens both careers as well as making the pair evaluate their own morality, both in the workplace and beyond.
With its Edinburgh setting, suave crime lords and renegade officers, The Complaints will be familiar territory to Rebus fans - even if its hero isn't. In trading in his leading man for a younger model, Rankin is able, convincingly, to explore contemporary topics like the mores of online role-playing games, and lets Fox get involved in some muscular crime fighting.
Getting to know this man, an intriguing mix of apathy and action, is almost like a courtship – each new situation reveals something that makes the reader want to know yet more. Fox may not be as troubled as his predecessor but he certainly has his demons. The backdrop is this year's financial meltdown, with failed property deals as a integral part of the plot. But as civilisation crumbles in the face of the credit crunch, Fox stays firm, becomes fearsome and forges a friendship, both with Jamie Breck and, I'll warrant, a slew of new followers.
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