With ‘The Complaints’, we have the first novel by Ian Rankin featuring a new protagonist, another Edinburgh policeman, Malcolm Fox. But Fox is quite a different character to his predecessor, Jack Rebus’ although both men are imposing physically.
For a start, Fox doesn’t drink and is initially less confrontational than Rebus. The city, however, is the same, and although some may regret that the massively talented Rankin has not moved into new territory along with his new character, there’s no denying that the author is the ultimate modern chronicler of Edinburgh, with a gift for pungent evocation worthy of his great Scottish literary predecessors.
Fox is part of the unpopular Complaints & Conduct department of the police force (better known as ‘The Complaints’) — and the reason for that unpopularity is clear to see: this is the department designed to root out corruption in the force and investigate suspect officers. The current target for Fox is policeman Glenn Heaton of the CID, who has often sailed close to the edge; now there appears to be material for a case against him. But at the same time, another cop, Jamie Breck, is suspected of being part of a ring indulging in child abuse. Fox is in for some jaw-dropping surprises regarding his colleague, and the shifting relationship between the two men is at the core of this finely honed narrative (along with Fox’s treatment of his ailing father — something else which differentiates this book from its predecessors).
There will, of course, be Rebus fans who would have been happy for Rankin to go on creating new problems for him, but most admirers of the author will be happy with this striking change of pace — and will be hungry for further outings for Malcolm Fox and the Complaints unit.