This was a great choice for audiobook, if only because I was severely missing hearing the Scottish accent on a daily basis. Peter Forbes narrated, and did a fantastic job of infusing the various characters with different voices and personalities. I also appreciated that he narrated in an Edinburgh accent (not sure where he’s from exactly, couldn’t figure it out). While my ear isn’t very well trained, it would feel wrong to have Ian Rankin read by a Glaswegian, whose thicker accents are not heard in Edinburgh.
The Complaints introduces readers to Malcolm Fox, an Inspector in the Complaints department. For American readers, that would mean Internal Affairs, the cops who investigate other cops. Malcolm is perfect for the Complaints; he always follows the rules and does not care who he investigates if they are breaking the rules. The book begins with Malcolm having wrapped an investigation into a corrupt DI named Glen Heaton, and getting an assignment to investigate young DS Jamie Breck. Just after he begins his investigation, Malcom’s sister’s abusive partner turns up dead, and DS Breck is investigating the murder. Throw in the apparent suicide of a prominent property developer, and Malcolm is left reeling from everything that seems so connected.
Let’s talk about Malcolm Fox himself. I really liked him. He was an interesting departure from the normal Tartan Noir character. He had his moments, but for the most part was very likable. He could maintain relationships and got on with others without much problem. Well, perhaps not with those who were doing wrong, but Malcolm’s easy friendship with Breck was at the core of the conspiracy against both men. Malcolm holds a good relationship with his father and tries to heal the strained one with his sister (strained mostly because he could not stand to watch her abused by her partner). While he could sustain a romantic relationship, Malcolm seems well adjusted in many other ways. This is a severe difference from Rebus, and since Fox looks to be the center of a series, should show Rankin’s diversity as an author. In fact, I would say that with Malcolm comes a reinvention of crime fiction stereotypes, paving the way for other characters like him. He worked the entire case with Breck at his side, something most crime fiction detectives would never do.
At the center of The Complaints is the theme of family and what one would do for them. Malcolm abandons his rules and goes rogue in order to protect his sister. Even after he’s put on probation, Malcolm continues to go for the answers that would help his sister heal. Family is mentioned again and again, amongst several other characters. When most crime fiction novels focus on the loners in the world, this book brought the families to the forefront. I like the transition. Of course, some of these families were criminals, but that’s beside the point.
With more experience, you can tell that Rankin has created a stronger start to this series than with Rebus. I felt that The Complaints was technically better, written with a series in mind, and set up with a stronger character. I’m not knocking Rebus by any means, but there is no denying that The Complaints was far more sophisticated than Knots and Crosses.
Only downside to an audiobook is that it’s harder to remember all of the tiny details. Oh darn, I’ll just have to read it again.