Colley is a "Gonzo journalist" with an amphetamine habit, living in Edinburgh. He also smokes cigarettes and cannabis, drinks copious amounts of alcohol, plays computer games, and has adventurous sex with a married woman, Yvonne. He regrets his addictions and misdemeanours and tries half-heartedly to give them up occasionally.
He reflects on his awful experience of witnessing the aftermath of the massacre at the 'Highway of Death' in the Gulf War, and covers the deployment of HMS Vanguard, Britain's first Trident nuclear missile submarine.
He thinks he has a scoop when he receives anonymous phone calls about a series of mysterious deaths. Suddenly he has mysterious deaths of his own to worry about, when an editorial he wrote years before comes back to haunt him. In it, he suggested that certain named capitalist and right-wing public figures would be better hate-figures than the conventional ones of foreign leaders or domestic criminals. It seems someone is killing off the people on his list, one by one. The description of the murders (which are ingeniously sadistic) is done in a fairly detailed manner.
Under suspicion by the police, Colley finds himself involved doubly in the bizarre murders when the killer is revealed... At the end of the book, Colley is diagnosed with lung cancer (a downbeat ending omitted in the film adaptation).
Complicity has been compared with Tam o' Shanter in its portrayal of the human, and particularly Scottish, attitude to sin and transgression. The themes of violence and substance abuse in the book, along with the grim ending, seem to point to Banks' growing pacifism.
Cameron Colley strongly resembles Ken Nott in Banks' later book Dead Air.
Significant sections of the novel are written in second-person narrative.
An extract from the book was published in the Spring 1993 edition of the magazine Granta (#43) Best of Young British Novelists 2, ISBN 0-14-014059-X with the title Under Ice.
Iain Banks's Complicity: A Reader's Guide, Cairns Craig, Continuum International Publishing Group 2002, ISBN 0-826-45247-4