Nobody likes The Complaints - they're the cops who investigate other cops. Complaints and Conduct Department, to give them their full title, but known colloquially as 'The Dark Side', or simply 'The Complaints'. It's where Malcolm Fox works. He's just had a result, and should be feeling good about himself. But he's a man with problems of his own. He has an increasingly frail father in a care home and a sister who persists in an abusive relationship - something which Malcolm cannot seem to do anything about.
There is life after Rebus, even if it comes in a package of polar opposites. Rebus was an old school cop - murder squad, Malcolm Fox works for the cops who investigate other cops. Rebus was more than prepared to ignore rules, stretch boundaries and stomp rather resoundingly all over team work. Fox looks for just that sort of behaviour. Rebus was an unreformed grumpy drunk, Fox is a more carefully controlled man with a broken marriage, his drinking under control. They are both solitary men, although with Rebus there was something satisfied about his aloneness, Fox's comes with a real sense of regret.
But, however you characterise the people in any book by Ian Rankin, he really knows how to write a character that holds your attention, albeit in this case, a character that is considerably more subdued, controlled, underplayed than Rebus ever could be. In a strange way I couldn't get Siobhan out of my mind whenever Fox made an appearance - there seemed to be something in common about those two.
Given that this new series centres around the Complaints department, obviously Fox and his colleagues are going to be investigating a cop, although their current investigation carries some baggage from a recent case involving a long-time member. In a twist, a young officer colleague of Heaton's comes under suspicion when there's some evidence he could be involved in an online child pornography group. In a further twist, that young officer - Jamie Breck - is the officer who calls Fox to tell him that his sister's boyfriend has been murdered. Fox and his sister have had their difficulties in the past, not just because the now dead boyfriend used to beat her up on a semi-regular basis, there's always been a bit of conflict there. None of which is helped by their father aging and getting increasingly frail.
There's a lot of connections in the case that Fox is investigating. There's a feeling of swirling activity around him, Breck, his sister, and into the group originally investigating the online child pornography case. Within those connections and co-incidences there's going to be some conflict of interest complications and of course Fox gets himself into deep water, only digging himself out as he starts to get to the bottom of all of the connections. Which is complicated even more by the fact that he and Breck find common ground, friendship if you like.
THE COMPLAINTS is a different book from anything in the Rebus series partially because the nature of the investigation is different, and partially because Fox isn't Rebus. The investigation - the getting to the bottom of who's crooked, who's just unfortunate and who's flat out stupid, the idea that cops are investigating cops gives that aspect of the book a different feeling. It's quite feasible that some readers may find it a little flatter than what they are used to - possibly because there's less of that feeling of justice being seen to be done, and more a feeling of housework - necessary but definitely not high profile or glamorous. Beside that the character of Fox is more subdued than Rebus... less dangerous, definitely less edgy. He's a solid man, doing a nasty job that somebody has to do. He takes it seriously, he believes his job is about doing what's right and doing it well.
A great story is normally pretty well guaranteed in any book written by Rankin, but THE COMPLAINTS gives us a new scenario, a different approach and a different overall feel. Which is a very good thing.