Malcolm Fox and his team from Internal Affairs are back. They've been sent to Fife to investigate whether fellow cops covered up for a corrupt colleague, Detective Paul Carter. Carter has been found guilty of misconduct with his own uncle, also in the force, having proved to be his nephew's nemesis. But what should be a simple job is soon complicated by intimations of conspiracy and cover-up - and a brutal murder, a murder committed with a weapon that should not even exist. The spiralling investigation takes Fox back in time to 1985, a year of turmoil in British political life.
If you, like me, have been more than a bit concerned about regular reading habits with the retirement of Rebus, I'm happy to report that at least I'm no longer fearful. Well about the loss of a fictional companion anyway. Now I can spend long periods of time worrying about Ian Rankin's health and hoping that all is going well with his writing. Because I'd really like to think there's more than a few Malcolm Fox books in the future, as this new series shapes up to be something well worth following.
It's probably not surprising that there are some aspects between the two series that are similar. There is a central character with a difficult back story, albeit with differences between Fox and Rebus. Fox isn't as comfortable in his flaws, he's taking steps to try to get his act together. It makes sense that a flawed man is working for The Complaints. It's not surprising that a man who has done the best and the worst can cope with the best and the worst in others.
Another similarity is the way that the books are perfectly balanced between a character study and a good, solid plot. In THE IMPOSSIBLE DEAD The Complaints are investigating allegations about a single individual - ex-Detective Paul Carter and what looks like a cover-up by his fellow officers. Fox and his small team are forced closer together simply by being outsiders, but this book gives Rankin the chance to strengthen that team feeling, whilst also allowing them to rise as individuals - again not unlike the Rebus / Siobhan pairing.
Whilst Fox, his ailing father and his bitter and twisted sister remain the focus of the personal aspects of the book, there is a back story for all of the team building, just as the resentment of the cops that investigate other cops is growing. I must admit I'm finding that aspect - cops investigating other cops, and the things that are being hidden and why - part of what's particularly interesting about this series. Obviously because it is something different, but also because in Rankin's hands, it's not one-dimensional, and the mechanics of "investigation" of a crime remain forefront.
Whilst I'm happy that the occasional Rebus outing is still in the offing, I've also developed quite a liking for this new direction in a big hurry. Of course, there is always the fact that if Rankin published his to do list, I'd read that as well, but THE IMPOSSIBLE DEAD is really a very good entry in this excellent new series.
THE COMPLAINTS - Ian Rankin
Nobody likes The Complaints - they're the cops who investigate other cops. Complaints and Conduct Department, to give them their full title, but known colloquially as 'The Dark Side', or simply 'The Complaints'. It's where Malcolm Fox works. He's just had a result, and should be feeling good about himself. But he's a man with problems of his own. He has an increasingly frail father in a care home and a sister who persists in an abusive relationship - something which Malcolm cannot seem to do anything about.
There is life after Rebus, even if it comes in a package of polar opposites. Rebus was an old school cop - murder squad, Malcolm Fox works for the cops who investigate other cops. Rebus was more than prepared to ignore rules, stretch boundaries and stomp rather resoundingly all over team work. Fox looks for just that sort of behaviour. Rebus was an unreformed grumpy drunk, Fox is a more carefully controlled man with a broken marriage, his drinking under control. They are both solitary men, although with Rebus there was something satisfied about his aloneness, Fox's comes with a real sense of regret.
But, however you characterise the people in any book by Ian Rankin, he really knows how to write a character that holds your attention, albeit in this case, a character that is considerably more subdued, controlled, underplayed than Rebus ever could be. In a strange way I couldn't get Siobhan out of my mind whenever Fox made an appearance - there seemed to be something in common about those two.
Given that this new series centres around the Complaints department, obviously Fox and his colleagues are going to be investigating a cop, although their current investigation carries some baggage from a recent case involving a long-time member. In a twist, a young officer colleague of Heaton's comes under suspicion when there's some evidence he could be involved in an online child pornography group. In a further twist, that young officer - Jamie Breck - is the officer who calls Fox to tell him that his sister's boyfriend has been murdered. Fox and his sister have had their difficulties in the past, not just because the now dead boyfriend used to beat her up on a semi-regular basis, there's always been a bit of conflict there. None of which is helped by their father aging and getting increasingly frail.
There's a lot of connections in the case that Fox is investigating. There's a feeling of swirling activity around him, Breck, his sister, and into the group originally investigating the online child pornography case. Within those connections and co-incidences there's going to be some conflict of interest complications and of course Fox gets himself into deep water, only digging himself out as he starts to get to the bottom of all of the connections. Which is complicated even more by the fact that he and Breck find common ground, friendship if you like.
THE COMPLAINTS is a different book from anything in the Rebus series partially because the nature of the investigation is different, and partially because Fox isn't Rebus. The investigation - the getting to the bottom of who's crooked, who's just unfortunate and who's flat out stupid, the idea that cops are investigating cops gives that aspect of the book a different feeling. It's quite feasible that some readers may find it a little flatter than what they are used to - possibly because there's less of that feeling of justice being seen to be done, and more a feeling of housework - necessary but definitely not high profile or glamorous. Beside that the character of Fox is more subdued than Rebus... less dangerous, definitely less edgy. He's a solid man, doing a nasty job that somebody has to do. He takes it seriously, he believes his job is about doing what's right and doing it well.
A great story is normally pretty well guaranteed in any book written by Rankin, but THE COMPLAINTS gives us a new scenario, a different approach and a different overall feel. Which is a very good thing.