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Regular readers of Ian Rankin will no doubt have felt aggrieved when the author hung up the boots of his favoured literary hero, the melancholy Detective Inspector John Rebus, grumpiest alcoholic (in denial) on the force. Rankin had already given us a little thread of promise of a new character to emerge on the scene: another Inspector, but this one with less popularity than our gruff Rebus: Malcolm Fox.
While Rebus' attitude gets him into hot water with others, the reason Fox doesn't attract many friends is to do with the fact that he is from the Complaints, the familiar name for the Internal Affairs department. This, as the second outing for Fox, has a little more plot and less development needed, Rankin choosing to mention and feature key characters from the first book (which incidentally was entitled The Complaints). Rankin's usual plot skills and character driven action is supported well by the comfortable style with which he describes his surroundings, a fact supported by his extremely popular app where he gives you a tour of the locations he uses.
For his second feature, Fox has what seems like a relatively simple open and shut case to investigate. An officer, Paul Carter, has been charged with an indecent proposal towards a member of the public, and a couple more have come forward to say the same thing. Carter's fellow officers seem to have supported him and fabricated lies in order to try and get him out of trouble with the law. However, things seem to have backfired somewhat and now he's in trouble, suspended and in jail.
Fox is quickly gaining a reputation for being thorough, and as he wanders around interviewing anyone and everyone related to the case, he tarts uncovering various little truths and more lies, and when an age old mystery arises, full of deep governmental conspiracy, Fox just can't resist getting stuck in where his nose doesn't belong, and even when he gets into hot water himself because of his relentless pursuits, it just makes him all the more intrigued. Like another of Rankin's literary leaders, he just doesn't know when to give up.
It's hard to put down, but then this comes as no surprise to me. Many other thriller writers are excellent, but Rankin always seems to take the edge for me. I'm able to visualise what's going on much better than most other authors, and the main reason is that he manages to get the characters so deeply described so early on through conversation and action that you don't need paragraphs of explanation - their actions do the development for them. Rankin ensures that Fox's team of the experienced and rough around the edges Kaye and the young and techy Naysmith return as if you've read about them all your lives, while the authority figures are once again treated with disdain and disrespect by our main characters. I wonder whether this is something Rankin feels strongly about, as it's something that has transferred across from Rebus books, or whether this is just because it makes it easier for us to like the rebellious heroes.
I found that the chapters flowed very well, and although it's not the sort of book I can devour in a day, it's not the sort of book I'd actually want to do this with. I can read James Patterson if this is what I want to do! Rankin is for taking your time and savouring in my opinion, and this is precisely what I did. You can picture the locations as he describes them, and I loved the way that he brought Fox's family into the fray. In fact, there's one small outlet which just may provide some sort of scope for making a little controversy out of family in this way, and at the moment, he's working on his next thriller.
Following Rankin's twitter page and having a look at his app are something I hadn't done before, but with the way that technology and advertising and marketing are going, he seems to have jumped on the bandwagon pretty quickly. No doubt other authors will follow suit very soon. The rear of this book advertises the app very well, and I must say I downloaded it immediately to my android, and have looked on my iPad for it as well. The geography on it is excellent, you can take a tour, and it all helps to provide background on the whole thing. I find that in between reading snippets of the book, it's handy to have a quick peek and look to see exactly where Rankin is talking about.
It's good that he uses real locations, and that the characters embed so well into them. the writing style doesn't diminish as the ideas get used up. It's almost as if there are more coming through as he gets older, and although I'm one Rebus novel behind, I'm certainly not going to rush into it as it's something to savour. For now, I'll busy myself with using the QR code and visiting the website, re-exploring the previous books and wondering where Rankin will take Fox next. Those worrying that Rebus' premature reitrement has meant the nearing of the end for Rankin's writing can think again. I get the feeling he's catching his second wind. Recommended.
Ian Rankin's second Malcolm Fox book confirms him as a worthy successor to Rebus. This latest page-turner from the bestselling crime author managed to hold my attention for nearly four hundred pages.
Like many other fans of the highly successful Inspector Rebus series, I had my doubts when Rankin risked creating a new set of characters in 'The Complaints' (the first Inspector Fox book - reviewed earlier) but my fears proved unfounded, and this new story builds on that success.
Based in present day Edinburgh, Fox works in the Lothian & Borders Police Complaints and Conduct Department - 'The Complaints' - who investigate complaints against their own colleagues. The City of Edinburgh was the main focus of the first book, but in 'The Impossible Dead' we are also taken to towns in neighbouring Fife, Stirling and elsewhere. The locations happen to be familiar to me; they are well portrayed and provide a great backdrop to the action, but this is just a bonus as the story will have universal appeal.
~~No time like the present~~
This is bang up to date, present day Scotland with a historical and United Kingdom perspective. The subtitle is 'Some secrets never die', some 30 year old 'skeletons' do end up being unearthed here. Hence the title 'The impossible dead', perhaps?
~~The plot thickens~~
The complex plot involves Fox's team initially investigating a complaint against officers in another force, across the River Forth, in Fife. What appears at first to be a straightforward investigation turns into a web of intrigue, corruption and murder, going back several decades to a period of political unrest and elements of violent separatism in Scotland. Times have changed, as have the names of current politicians and key players in the ensuing drama!
As Scotland Yard Special Branch becomes involved, the pace gathers with every twist and turn of the plot, however implausible, and the suspense is maintained right up to the frenetic conclusion. All the elements of a great whodunit are here in spades.
Rankin's writing is as taught as ever here, his dialogue is sharp and he demonstrates his usual insight with his latest set of characters.
~~A wily Fox?~~
Malcolm Fox is a deeply conflicted character drawn into an increasingly fraught investigation, leading to the highest echelons of present day Scottish society. As he feels professionally obliged to dig deeper to get to the truth, despite universal opposition and great personal risk, his elderly father is ailing and relations with his sister become increasingly strained. Much of this rings true and develops background established in the first book.
Fox is an interesting persona. He has (unfounded) doubts about his own professionalism - ironically, given his role in ensuring professional standards. His conscience plagues him in his personal life too. Relations with family and colleagues are central to the story.
No, this isn't a DVD review, though a film or TV version could be great! Somehow I managed to acquire both the hardback and paperback editions. Apart from the slightly clearer text on my copy, the main advantage the hardcover edition has over the paperback is the additional short story included at the end. I'm keeping this one for later...
~~Reflections from 2012~~
Reading this fairly recent work in the current political climate, I couldn't help reflecting again on SNP plans for a single police force for Scotland and legislation on minimum alcohol pricing. This latest Complaints story again involves separate regional police forces investigating each other; and unlike Rebus, Fox is a reformed heavy drinker. I hesitate to comment further on the politics of 'separatism' or nationalism'. We live in 'interesting times'!
Excellent. Rankin's next thriller can't come too soon for me.
~~Availability & price (September 2012)~~
From Amazon: Kindle version £4.99, paperback £3.86, hardcover £11.00
Bibliographic details (from COPAC):
Hardback: 373 pages
Publisher: Orion, 2011
Audio (CD) and large print editions also available.
* Ian Rankin's official website : www.ianrankin.net (includes 'Rebus's Edinburgh')
* Orion Books : www.orionbooks.co.uk
* COPAC: National, Academic, and Specialist Library Catalogue : http://copac.ac.uk
When Fox loses his way in St Andrews this surprises him as we are led to believe it only has two streets. In fact, it has many more, including three parallel main streets: South Street, Market Street and North Street. But maybe that's just Fox's misapprehension as Rankin most probably knows better(?)
Odd coincidence: this is the second novel I've read this summer which involves a character visiting a 'secure unit' inmate (patient?) - this time it's Carstairs, last time it was Broadmoor. Maybe best not read too much into this!
[© SteveS001 2012. A version of this original review may appear on other review sites]