* Prices may differ from that shown
Originally published in 2009, Ian Rankin's first Malcolm Fox novel proved a worthy successor to his best selling Inspector Rebus detective stories. These were widely regarded as a hard act to follow but I believe Rankin largely pulled it off with 'The Complaints'.
My only reservation is the sheer complexity of the plot. With more twists than the circuitous drive around Holyrood Park and the streets of Edinburgh Old Town, this was quite challenging towards the end of the book.
Judging by previous critical reactions I'm not alone in this reaction, but I never entirely lost the plot or, indeed, interest. In fact I found it increasingly difficult to put down. After all, complexity never put me off classics like 'The Big Sleep', and I seem to recall Raymond Chandler himself confessing to have little idea as to what was going on at one point during filming.
This is a story of corruption and murder, with many familiar elements, including drugs, gangs, suspensions and family tensions; but the perspective is original and the plot unpredictable. The action is compelling and I found the characters quite engaging. The setting is mainly a post-Credit-Crunch Edinburgh, wintry and beset with financial, property and other problems.
Unlike Rebus, Fox works in the local police Complaints and Conduct Department - 'The Complaints' - who investigate their own colleagues. Not the most popular of roles, one might think, but it is a refreshing change. In fact Fox ends up unofficially investigating far more than his colleagues. This is quite original and when I finally put the book down, I was pleased to discover there is now a second Malcolm Fox novel.
~~Starring the City~~
I would like to see this televised like the later Rebus series with Ken Stott. As in the Rebus series, the city is something of a star in its own right here - Edinburgh, that is, with Dundee in a supporting role. In many ways this is a latter day tale of two cities: old and new, rich and poor, honest and otherwise. Rankin knows the city well and paints an authentic picture of its less well known underbelly, with areas like the Cowgate and Grassmarket not so very far off the familiar tourist path.
Having just returned from navigating the perennial city tramworks, I can testify to the accuracy of Rankin's descriptions here - even now. The sight of RBS HQ also rang a few bells, warning or otherwise.
~~Reflections from 2012~~
Reading this fairly recent work in the current political climate, I couldn't help reflecting on SNP plans for a single police force for Scotland and legislation on minimum alcohol pricing. Without giving too much away, the story involves separate regional police forces investigating each other; and unlike Rebus, Fox is a reformed heavy drinker.
This is an interesting development from Rankin's immensely successful series of detective novels, with passing references also to the fine art world of his previous work 'Doors open'. I was delighted to be given the hardback version recently and look forward to more of the same, with any luck...
~~Availability & price~~
From Amazon: Kindle version £4.99, paperback £4.71, hardcover £10.88
Paperback: 496 pages
Publisher: Orion; MMP Latest Reissue edition (5 Aug 2010)
Audio editions also available.
* Ian Rankin's official website : www.ianrankin.net (includes 'Rebus's Edinburgh')
* Orion Books : www.orionbooks.co.uk
[© SteveS001 2012. A version of this original review may appear on other review sites]
Early on reading Peter Robinson's books, I couldn't help compare his Inspector Banks with Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus, so similar were the two gruff hard nosed coppers and so tumultuous were their personal lives. Of late I have refrained from these comparisons, mainly because Rankin has stopped writing Rebus and I have been concentrating on Robinson and Banks. However, I have had The Complaints sitting on my shelf for a while now, and it was only a matter of time before I read it and made the inevitable comparison.
The Complaints is a crime thriller like the vast majority of Rankin's work, but this time there is no Rebus, and the author concentrates on a new character, Malcolm Fox. Fox works for the Complaints and Conduct, chasing 'dirty cops' and investigating his own kind. As a result, he and his co workers are often shunned by the rest of the force, although a large number of them secretly respect and are thankful for the work that the Complaints do.
Fox has just put the final nail in the coffin of a bent copper, Glen Heaton, when he gets the nod to start investigating one of Heaton's colleagues, Jamie Breck. However, as Fox starts digging on Breck, the murder of his girlfriend's wifebeater boyfriend Vince puts the cat amongst the pigeons. With Breck one of the officers investigating Vince's death, the tension mounts as the lines between who is investigating who and why starts to shimmer before blending almost too far into each other.
What Rankin does expertly here is set the scene. I'd say the first half of the book is as good as anything he's written in a long time. The only thing is that he is so adept at the written word that he almost loses you here with a plot that becomes far more complicated than you would think it needs to. The writing style is a world apart from the vast majority of really good authors - the man really has the knack - but I just felt he went a bit too deep with the plot and almost lost me at times.
Where he picks it up though is in the characterisation. Sure, there are plenty of people involved in the book, some important and some trivial, but everyone has their place and some who you may think unimportant soon turn out to be integral to the plot, and others with high profile get less of a mention as the book plods along. If you try to look past the deep detail and wade through some long paragraphs, I think it's probably worth letting yourself slow down to read this one. There's no use in trying to rush it. A lot of crime thriller authors have shallow plots and the unlikely twist, relying on pace to sell copies and spread the word, but I kind of like how Rankin always makes you take your time and think properly about what's going on. It's there to be worked out so long as you have the patience.
That having been said, I think this one required a bit too much patience for me in comparison to how he usually is with his writing. It was certainly well written, with characters in and out of the police that are well structured and developed where necessary, but the main feeling I got throughout was one of a complicated plot. The characters almost took over at times and controlled proceedings, and there are certainly similarities between Rebus and Fox in terms of the determined policeman trying to solve his case, but Rankin overcooks it somewhat for me on this one. He's saved by his skill and by just how much I enjoyed it, but even with this it's not one of his strongest books.
Review of 'The Complaints', a novel by Ian Rankin.
I am reviewing the paperback edition of this novel, 452 pages, cover price £7.99, ISBN 9761409103479. Genre:- Crime Fiction.
The book can be sourced from high street booksellers and is currently available on www.amazon.co.uk. Amazon prices are £4.54, new or from 0.01p + P&P, used. A Kindle version is also available for £4.99 from the site.
Set in Edinburgh, in 2009, the plot follows a few weeks in the life of police officer, Malcolm Fox.
Malcolm, or 'Foxy' as his colleagues call him, works in Complaints, officially called the 'Complaints and Conduct' department. This department specialises in the investigation of other officers, so called 'dirty cops', those who bend the rules, break them or are suspected of being involved in criminal activities. They are not popular with other departments and Malcolm is seen as a bit of an odd-ball with his trademark blue braces and loud ties.
Malcolm's department have recently had a success in the bringing down of a rogue cop, Glenn Heaton, a popular C.I.D. officer who had been caught trading information with criminals. The case is all but closed when The Complaints team are put onto another case, a colleague of Heaton, called Jamie Breck.
The investigation of Breck has been passed to Malcolm's department from another team, known as the 'Chop Shop', who specialises in tracking down and investigating paedophiles. Breck is suspected of being part of a ring indulging in child abuse. Breck's credit card details were found on the members list of particularly vile Australian based website involved in child abuse.
Malcolm is personally tasked with investigating Breck.
Fox's personal life is in chaos. He is divorced and living alone, he has had a problem with alcohol in the past, he is responsible for the nursing home fees for his frail widowed father added to which, his younger sister Jude is involved in a violent relationship and will not listen to her brother or let him help her. When eventually her boyfriend breaks Jude's arm and then disappears, Jude accepts his help. As a result, Malcolm Fox finds he is a man with a heavy weight on his shoulders.
As the novel unfolds over a three week period, the reader is drawn into a scenario of police misconduct, revenge, set ups, character assassinations, intrigue and even murder.
==About the Author==
Ian Rankin is probably best known for his 'Rebus' novels. He was born in the Kingdom of Fife in 1960. After graduating from the University of Edinburgh in 1982, Ian Rankin then spent three years writing novels when he was supposed to be working towards a PhD in Scottish Literature. His first Rebus novel was published in 1987, and the Rebus books are now translated into thirty-six languages.
Rankin is a contributor to BBC2's Newsnight Review. He also presented his own TV series called 'Ian Rankin's Evil Thoughts'. Rankin has received the OBE for services to literature, opting to receive the prize in his home city of Edinburgh, where he lives with his partner and two sons.
==My Thoughts and Conclusion==
I found this novel an intriguing glimpse into the life and work of a Police complaints department. The novel is set along similar lines to a 'Rebus' tale, different characters and location, but a police based novel all the same. Personally, I have become slightly tired of the Rebus character, although I do enjoy Ian Rankin's writing style, so I was pleased to sample a slightly different novel from this author.
The characters are extremely well drawn and the dialogue is crisp and sharp. The plot fairly skips along and the twists and turns that unfold are surprising and unpredictable. I feel this author is a master of his craft and a true story teller. This novel captured my interest from start to finish and when the book finished I felt I wanted more!
My main criticism of The Complaints, is that the end was a little complicated and involved. To be blatantly honest, even after reading this book twice, I am still unsure exactly why the central character was dragged into the intrigue of revenge.
Perhaps I am missing the point?
Perhaps this is intentional, a way of leaving the door open for a sequel?
Whatever the reason for the complexity, I still consider The Complaints a well written, interesting novel that I would recommend to others who enjoy a crime novel.
Thank you for reading.
©brittle1906 October 2011
N.B. My reviews may be found on other sites under the same user name.
~~ Synopsis ~~
The Complaints, or to use their full name, The Complaints and Conduct Department, are the cops who investigate the other cops. Surprisingly nobody working for the police likes The Complaints. Malcolm Fox however, works there and he's just had a good result from a case against someone. Whilst he should be feeling pretty good about that, he is bogged down with problems of his own. His frail father is in a care home, and his sister is in a violent relationship and won't listen to Malcolm.
Fox however has already been given a new task. Another dirty cop, this time called Jamie Breck. He's been asked to investigate him by the 'Chop Shop', the department who investigate online paedophiles. They think he's dirty, but no one can prove it, and they want Fox to look into this. The trouble comes however when he learns that there's more to Breck then first meets the eye... and then a murder gets thrown into the works which gets far too close to home for comfort.
~~ My Opinion ~~
Ian Rankin is rather famously known for his Inspector Rebus series which spanned 17 books ending with Exit Music in 2007. I'm a fan of the Rebus books, although admittedly I haven't managed to get through them all yet, however I always know what to expect from those books, and that's a good quality crime fiction story that won't bore me. Since the Rebus books came to a close, Rankin has done a couple of other things and The Complaints was a whole new book with a whole new main character.
Well, aside from the fact it's still set in Edinburgh and still features a divorced man who has troubles with women as the main character. Despite this I really enjoyed the setting to this story, and The Complaints is certainly not something I have read before, a story of a department who investigates their own certainly sounds promising.
The book did draw me in really quickly, with the good closure of one case Fox is starting to begin a new case involving a Jamie Breck and suspicious online activities. It sounds like a story I could get stuck into, with him trying to build up evidence against Breck and it certainly does begin like that. However a series of events begins to happen and before I knew it, the book took on a completely different direction.
I usually like a book which has a nice twist in it, and takes me where I least expect it, but with The Complaints I didn't like where it was headed at all. What started out as a great read quickly became, confusing, political and well, boring! I could not put this book down at the start, say for the first quarter of the book, but by ¾ in I was struggling to pick this up and get back into it, and every time I did I was confused with what was going on, and completely puzzled by the 'conspiracy' and the people involved.
I did really enjoy the Edinburgh setting, as I did with the Rebus books as Rankin does a brilliant job of describing the city and its darker sides that tourists don't see. The Rebus books are quite old now so it was refreshing to read a book about Edinburgh in the economic downturn, banker's pensions and PM's expenses and every time Fox set out to drive about the city, the trouble and traffic jams caused by the tram system currently being built were always being brought up. It's clear to see his books are well researched, and not just the Edinburgh knowledge but also the policing methods, it really does seem very real.
The other characters in the book were quite good, I did find the banter between Fox and his work colleagues quite amusing, and I became quite involved with all of the main characters. We meet Fox's Dad and his sister who he has plenty of time for in the start of the book, but as things start to get moving promised visits start to take the back burner. It was the uncommon characters who we never really meet but names keep cropping up that confused me, especially in the latter parts of the book and I found myself flicking back through to figure out just who was who again.
To me this book felt like Rankin hasn't truly moved away from Rebus. Whilst it is a new police department, the main character Fox seems too similar, and Rankin tries to take the story in a different direction but for me it didn't work too well. I didn't know what was happening, who was bribing who and just who the bad were from the good. The last quarter of the book for me, was a slog to the end, and I left feeling disappointed. The book started out so well and ended quite poorly in my opinion.
~~ Summary ~~
Ian Rankin might have written a brilliant series of books, but this one didn't win me over. The story changed into something completely different and ended up being a confusing conspiracy novel involving rich business men and women and had nothing to do with how the book started. The Edinburgh setting however was, as always, brilliant, and I did enjoy some of the characters.
Available in Paperback from Amazon.co.uk for £8.74
I'm a massive fan of Ian Rankin and own the complete collection of all the Rebus books. Since Rebus was 'retired' in 2007, I've bought Rankin's two new books in the hope that the characters would be as enigmatic as Rebus. I really enjoyed 2008's Doors Open, with a fast paced story and a cheeky nod to 'you know who' (Rebus). As such, I was very much looking forward to 2009's The Complaints.
The book is set in familiar territory to Ian Rankin fans. The main protagonist, Malcolm Fox is an Edinburgh cop - sound familiar to anyone? However, unlike Rebus, Malcolm Fox works for the Complaints, the department which investigates other cops. Fox is asked to assist the Chop Shop (who investigate online paedophilia) who have evidence that a police officer has been involved in child porn. Rankin throws a couple of grenades into the plot mix including the murder or Fox's sister's partner and the possible suicide of a property developer and Fox is soon suspecting that he has been set up.
The plotting is complex and moves along at a fast pace, set against a backdrop of contemporary Edinburgh in the grip of the recession and property slump and disrupted by work on the new tram system; it certainly is a tale of the time. Ian Rankin demonstrates his depth of knowledge of the city and its darker underbelly in the way that will be familiar to readers of his previous works. At this point, I should admit that I have been on holiday to Edinburgh just to follow the Rebus trail - I often read Ian Rankin's books with an A-Z map so I can follow the characters' progress through the city. The descriptions of the ever-evolving city are evocative that even if you have never visited, you feel that you know it well.
Similarly, Rankin's knowledge of Police procedure is top notch. The world of the modern Edinburgh Police Force is utterly believable, populated by both optimists, reformers and dyed in the wool dinosaurs it feels like the author has a detailed knowledge of the real organisation which he undoubtedly does.
Where this book lacks, however, is in the character of Malcolm Fox. As a long term fan of Rankin, I cannot help but compare Fox to Rebus, which is a problem. Rebus may have been a middle-aged, alcoholic who cannot have a functioning relationship with a woman, but he was charismatic and just a little bit sexy. Malcolm Fox has some similarities, in that he is divorced, lives alone and has obviously had issues with alcohol in the past (he's now teetotal). However, I just didn't take to the character in the way I did to Rebus or find him all that believable. For instance, Rankin frequently makes reference to Fox wearing braces - I just don't understand this characterisation for a protagonist who is supposed to be in his 40s. I also couldn't understand what motivated this character, particularly in the area of policing in which he works. I also felt that the minor characters, especially the women, are also one-dimensional and don't add much to the story.
I do think that Rankin is missing Rebus as a familiar character to return to. I'm unsure whether The Complaints is the start of a new series of books following Malcolm Fox, but I hope it isn't. Fox doesn't carry the story in the way in which Rebus did - he's more of a Rebus-lite.
For all the flaws with characterisation, I did enjoy this book. Unfortunately, just not as much as I'd hoped. Having set the mould, I'm not sure that a series of Fox books would be as successful as the Rebus series. I would probably read them, and enjoy them to a point. However, although there were some good elements to this book overall I was disappointed.