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Catching up with Ian Rankin

The Complaints & The Impossible Dead & Standing In Another Man’s Grave – Ian Rankin


Ian Rankin is best known for his long and very popular mystery series featuring Detective Inspector John Rebus. With The Complaints we’ve left John Rebus behind. Ian Rankin retired Rebus at the end of the novel Exit Music and began a new series with Malcolm Fox at the centre of the story.

Malcolm Fox is a little younger, at forty something, than Rebus and it takes me a while to realize that there is more to this new character than it might at first seem. I was reluctant to read The Complaints thinking that a Rankin novel without Rebus would not be worth reading – but I was wrong. It did not take me long to become completely involved in the story and this new character.

Malcolm Fox works in “Complaints and Conduct”, cops who investigate other cops – soon to be re-named the Professional Standards Unit. As you can imagine many policemen look upon Fox and his team with scorn and have no desire to co-operate with them.

Being investigated in this novel is a policeman who may be involved in internet child pornography. Fox is called in by another branch to look into this mans activities. At the same time the partner of Fox’s sister has been murdered and although it is not his case Fox is determined to be part of the investigation. When these two seemingly completely separate cases appear to have more in common than can be easily explained Fox becomes even more determined to continue his investigation.

The difference between right and wrong becomes muddied, Fox finds himself in a moral conflict, and the line he once saw so clearly as one not to be crossed over becomes less certain than it once was.

Exit Music was published in 2007 and Ian Rankin writes that with the retirement of Rebus he was free to experiment, so when he read a newspaper article about the Complaints and Conduct Department of a UK police force he became interested in the kind of mindset a person would need to have in order to “spy on your own kind”. Rankin felt this person would have to be very different from Rebus “you’d be slow and methodical, a stickler”. So Rankin created Malcolm   Fox – and then “turned his life inside out, goading him into action – no longer a voyeur, no longer someone who abides by the letter of the law”.  

Determined to catch up on all of the Ian Rankin novels I’d missed I carried right along and next read The Impossible Dead, published in 2011. We again have Malcolm Fox and the “Complaints” team, this time investigating the men who worked with a policeman already serving time for corruption. Malcolm is also facing the challenge of the responsibility for his aging father and his unemployed and vulnerable sister. Sometimes feeling “you have to draw a line between yourself and the ones you’re supposed to love”.

This book delves more deeply into the Scottish Independence movement – now and in the past when there was a serious terrorist element to the party. Of course, this is very topical now as there will be a vote on Scottish Independence this coming September.

Malcolm Fox, determined to get to the bottom of a crime from the past – even if he’ll never be able to prove it publically – puts himself in more danger than he expects.

As always, the Edinburgh traffic is a frustration, those who aren’t drinking whiskey are drinking 'Scotland's other National Drink' Irn-Bru. And by now I’ve forgiven Ian Rankin for retiring Rebus, I’ve come to accept Malcolm Fox – but I’m very glad to know that I can look forward to the return of Rebus Standing in Another Man’s Grave.

Rebus is now working in a department that looks at Cold Cases – seeking some that it might now be possible to solve, making to local force look good. Rebus is as independent as always; working by his own rules, taking files home and working on his own – setting up his own dining room as a case room. He’s reluctantly established the habit of going out for the occasional drink with his old enemy Cafferty, which brings him to the attention of Malcolm Fox in the Complaints.

As his old partner, Siobhan Clarke, tells him “times have changed”. She knows Rebus is “the loosest of canons, and no constabulary had room for those anymore…. But that was how Rebus worked: kicking up all the sand and sediment, then studying what effect it had and what was uncovered in the process”.

So, Rebus is much as ever. He may be drinking a little less most of the time, but he still smokes – admittedly unhealthy habits – but it is the amount of Irn Bru and junk food he consumes that most concerns me.

The mother of a girl who went disappeared many years earlier gets Rebus looking into a string of cases involving girls gone missing along the A9 from Edinburgh to Inverness and beyond. I was delighted to follow Rebus and Siobhan along that road, through the golf course on the Black Isle to watch the dolphins in the water beyond the lighthouse – I’d been there just last year.

Now that I’ve completely caught up with Rebus I am waiting patiently for the next installment – and can get on with my real job of reading all the new literary novels published this season. But, if you have yet to read the recent Rankin’s don’t wait any longer.



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