Malcolm Fox is also an Edinburgh cop and 'Rebus is just round the corner', says author
Charlotte Higgins, chief arts writer, guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 19 August 2009
Ian Rankin's latest crime novel, published next month, is about a divorced policeman who lives alone in Edinburgh, and has a troubled relationship with drink. But this is no shock resurrection of Rankin's detective Rebus; rather, it is the birth of a fresh protagonist who may yet become as popular as his predecessor.
Speaking about his new character for the first time, Rankin described Malcolm Fox, hero of The Complaints, as a quite different proposition from Rebus. In his early 40s, he works in one of the police force's most unpopular departments: the professional standards unit, investigating other cops.
"I know people are going to say it's too like Rebus, it's Rebus lite, why isn't it Rebus. But I want you to remember that Rebus is just round the corner; he's just left the canteen," said the author.
Rather than occupying a tenement flat in studenty Marchmont, Fox lives in a bungalow in unfashionable Oxgangs. Unlike Rebus, he has no real taste for music, but likes to watch DVDs of an evening and usually has a lasagne in the fridge. He has paid off his mortgage and swore off the booze six years ago.
"He's more cautious than Rebus; he plays by the rules. And he is close to his family, whereas Rebus has pushed his family away," said Rankin, speaking at the Edinburgh international book festival. "Malcolm Fox is such a nice guy; it's nicer to be in his head than in Rebus's" - and there certainly aren't as many hangovers.
Early readers of The Complaints attest to a very different feel to the book. The city itself is less "noir". Whereas for Rebus, Edinburgh was a crime scene waiting to happen, for Fox it is a place with a little more light and air.
None the less, the backdrop for the plot is dark enough – the action is set in February 2008, during the collapse of Edinburgh's banking industry. Part of the plot revolves around property developers and one of the dormant building sites in the city. And the title refers not only to the department for which Fox works, but local gripes familiar to the Edinburgh citizenry: "the roadworks, the council – the usual moans Scots folk are happy to have".
Rankin also announced that he will be taking a year-long sabbatical from autumn this year, during which he plans to travel to Canada and Australia. But he suggested that there may be more Malcolm Fox books in the pipeline. "I do like him and there's stuff about him I still want to know," he said.
Nor did he rule out Rebus appearing in a Fox book. He nearly gave Rebus's colleague Siobhan a bit-part in The Complaints, but he took her out when the book was on proof. "I thought she deserved a book of her own, rather than being a secondary character," said Rankin.