BACK in 1996, Christopher Brookmyre shook up the rules of Scottish crime fiction with Quite Ugly One Morning, an overtly political crime mystery that was both screamingly funny and absolutely relevant to contemporary concerns. The book’s hero, Jack Parlabane, would go on to feature in several of Brookmyre’s books, becoming inextricably linked to the author.

But as times changed, it became clear that Jack needed to take a rest. As newspapers suffered cutbacks, the idea of the crusading journalist became less credible as the lead in a crime novel. Brookmyre experimented with other characters and genres, including science fiction, and even turned serious with titles written as Chris Brookmyre, the shortening of his name signifying a slight tonal difference in the work.

In 2015, Parlabane returned in Dead Girl Walking, but he had matured. Gone were the excesses of old. The humour, still present, was more understated than before, and Parlabane himself seemed less gung-ho. However, all of this seemed a natural growth within a protagonist we had come to love. And his new-found maturity adds a touch of subtle poignancy to elements of Brookmyre’s latest publication, Black Widow.

There are still flashes of the man Parlabane used to be. He’s definitely more restrained, less inclined to rush in head first, but the humour’s still there, as are the anger and fire that defined him from his first appearance. The description of one particularly unpleasant man as a “sphincter-lozenge” is ample proof of both Jack’s impatience with certain individuals and his unique, often amusing turn of phrase.

Parlabane is working for a woman named Lucy, who wants the freelance investigative reporter to find the dirt on her sister-in-law, Diane Jager. Lucy is convinced that her brother’s death in a traffic accident was somehow orchestrated by the woman known online as “bladebitch”.

Brookymre has always dealt with current issues and trends, and in Black Widow he tackles online harassment and bullying, particularly of women. Before she meets her future husband, Diane runs a blog about sexism in surgery and how women are perceived by the medical profession. But when she is outed by online troublemakers, her life changes completely.

The incident is clearly inspired by the recent “Gamergate” scandal in which a female games designer was harassed online, subjected to horrific threats and “doxing”, whereby a person’s real life details are revealed on the internet with malicious intent.

The personal and professional fallout on Diane far outweighs her perceived crime of speaking out on issues of how women are perceived within the workplace. Then she meets Peter. He’s a computer coder who apparently knows very little about her past. He treats her with respect and doesn’t care about who she used to be. The couple are married within six months before his sudden and tragic death. But did something happen between them during that time that would lead Diane to commit murder?

Diane is a beautifully contradictory character. Sometimes she is fragile, sometimes hard, sometimes empathetic, often strikingly blunt, and the reader begins to wonder how much of what has been said about her is true. For much of the book, your sympathy flip-flops between understanding her predicament and being convinced that she might truly be guilty. Part of this has to do with the manner in which Brookmyre cleverly invests the reader’s sympathies in Diane. The most obvious of these is the way he parallels her with Parlabane in terms of personality and outlook. Not only is she a surgeon – the profession of our hero’s ex-wife – but she also has the same passion in her writing that Jack once possessed.

During one early sequence, Parlabane decides to read old posts on Diane’s “Scalpelgirl” blog, sceptical about the reasons it proved to be so well-received among readers. Then he realises that maybe he’s “a tad jealous. It used to be journalists like him whose pithy comments were being quoted and shared".

It’s a nice moment, and the implication that Diane and Parlabane are similar invites a powerful contradiction for the reader. You don’t want her to be guilty, and yet there’s the inescapable feeling that she may indeed have killed Peter, even if for understandable reasons. Parlabane always skated a moral line in the past. Maybe Diane has crossed it.

Black Widow is an intelligently entertaining novel from a writer whose work has grown and evolved over the years to make him one of the most interesting of the “tartan noir” set. Never predictable and always contemporary, Brookmyre has, like his most popular creation, become even more interesting as he’s matured.