MANY a writer must envy Ian Rankin.
He has long been the UK’s bestselling male crime author – and, what’s more, much acclaimed by critics as not all bestselling writers are. Then there’s the matter of having created in DI Jack Rebus one of the most iconic of modern literary coppers. But it’s tempting to wonder whether or not Rankin has had a few sleepless nights recently over his decision to retire his Scottish detective.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, another remarkable Scottish crime writer, failed to slough off Sherlock Holmes whose beat was Baker Street rather than Princes Street and was obliged to bring him back from the dead. But Rankin wasn’t killing off Rebus, just retiring him. And after his final appearance in Exit Music, Rankin admirers were in suspense – was there life after Rebus? Last year’s standalone heist novel, Open Doors, provided a reassuring answer – lightweight but a delight.
However, a big hurdle was still ahead for Rankin: a new series character; a new copper. And here is Malcolm Fox in The Complaints. Has lightning struck twice?
But it’s tempting to wonder whether or not Rankin has had a few sleepless nights recently over his decision to retire his Scottish detective.
Fox is a different kettle of fish to Rebus. He shares the burliness, the bolshiness and an old drink problem but is more likely to prefer Sibelius to the Stones. He cares for a frail elderly father and has no female partner. But the main difference is his job: Fox works for Edinburgh’s unpopular Complaints and Conduct Unit, rooting out corruption in the police.
Fox is after a copper called Jamie Breck – and there’s a personal element: Breck is involved in the inquiry into the death of the abusive partner of Fox’s alcoholic sister. The changing relationship between Fox and Breck is the crucial plot element.
Some might regret that Rankin has not taken the opportunity with this change of direction to choose a city to chronicle other than Edinburgh. Few have his skill at evoking the ancient town but there’s absolutely no doubt that he could have matched other writers tackling something other than their own patch. But who cares? Let’s face it, most Rankin admirers would be happy for him to take us down the mean streets of Auld Reekie for the rest of his career.
And on the evidence of The Complaints it looks as if Fox will be just as sure-footed a guide to the city as his grizzled predecessor.
by Ian Rankin
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