When John Rebus retired at the end of Exit Music, I was free to experiment. I spent the next eighteen months or so writing my first graphic novel (Dark Entries), some lyrics for an Edinburgh band called St Jude’s Infirmary, a novella for people with literacy problems (A Cool Head), and a serial for the New York Times (which would eventually be published as Doors Open). Oh, and I also set to work on my first film script, an adaptation of James Hogg’s novel Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (ongoing as I write this).
But then I read a newspaper article about the Complaints and Conduct department of a UK police force. That article got me interested. It seemed to me that to work as a member of The Complaints, basically spying on your own kind, would take a certain mindset. You’d have to be a very different kind of cop from Rebus. You’d be slow and methodical, a stickler for the rules, and somewhat of a voyeur. So I used my contacts and was granted an interview with an officer who worked at one time for the Complaints department of a Scottish police force. It was a fascinating experience and whetted my appetite for writing something. I wanted to take a cop from The Complaints and turn their life inside out, goading them into action – no longer a voyeur, no longer someone who abides by the letter of the law.
At the same time, everyone in Edinburgh seemed to be voicing some complaint or other. This was the winter of 2008/9. Work was ongoing to reinstate a tram system in the city. A lot of people couldn’t see the point of trams and many more disliked the disruption. Streets were closed off. There was almost a sense of ‘apartheid’ as the roadworks made it difficult to move from New Town to Old Town and vice versa. Added to which, the weather was fairly grim.
And the banks looked ready to implode.
Banking is in Edinburgh’s blood-stream. Many jobs depend on financial services. If the likes of the Royal Bank of Scotland caught a cold, we would all be infected. Major players who had been national heroes in years past now suddenly became pariahs, in a reversal that could have come from Shakespeare or Greek tragedy. I didn’t want to write about these figures per se, but I did want to explore the potential knock-on effects of economic uncertainty. With any luck, the plot would allow me to use characters from the Complaints and Conduct department, too.
Now that I’d decided to write another police novel – and one set firmly in contemporary Edinburgh – I needed to be sure that no one would see the protagonist as a thinly-disguised version of Rebus. I needn’t have worried: from the outset, Malcolm Fox was very much his own man. Then I introduced him to Jamie Breck – dynamic, charismatic, racing up the promotion ladder. If the two men seemed chalk and cheese, they would soon start to see common ground. Both would become suspects. And in Fox’s case, he would have to turn from gamekeeper to poacher.
As I say, he doesn’t really remind me of Rebus. He’s actually more like Miles Flint, the hero of ‘Watchman’, one of my early non-Rebus novels. Flint was a quiet, fastidious London-based spy who had to become proactive in order to find an enemy set on destroying him. He shares a strand of DNA with Malcolm Fox, while Rebus remains somebody Fox is more likely to have under his microscope.
Oh yes, I’ve been mulling over that idea. There must be a few skeletons lurking in Rebus’s closet, and who knows when one of them might come rattling to the attention of Complaints and Conduct….
Ian Rankin is a #1 international bestselling author. Winner of an Edgar Award and the recipient of a Gold Dagger for fiction and the Chandler-Fulbright Award, he lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, with his wife and their two sons. Visit him online at www.ianrankin.net, download the Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh iPhone app and visit his publisher Reagan Arthur Books for a list of all the amazing coverage Ian has received for The Complaints