Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Review of The Complaints by Ian Rankin (Orion, 2009)

Malcolm Fox works for the Conduct and Complaints section, the police unit that investigates other cops. Almost universally disliked, Fox and his colleagues run a small, tight ship, and expect little help or friendliness from the colleagues of those they investigate. Having just managed to wrap-up a case against Glenn Heaton, a cop who bends the rules to get results, Fox is asked to start an investigation into the conduct of Jamie Breck, a cop in the same team as Heaton suspected of purchasing online child porn. Almost immediately the partner of his sister, a man who has recently broken her arm in a row, is found beaten to death, and to complicate things Breck is part of the team investigating his murder, with Heaton’s boss in overall command. Fox starts to bend the rules himself, befriending Breck, unable to trust the other cops to do a good job, especially as they seem to be using the case to get at him. Soon, Fox has the tables turned on him, suspended from duty, along with Breck, and subject of a conduct investigation. Unsure who to trust, Fox needs to clear his name and find the killer of his sister’s partner.

Rankin is a skilled author, who seems to write effortlessly. Well plotted and structured, with workmanlike prose, the pages flip past. Very quickly, the reader is immersed in Fox’s world, his backstory, his relationships with family and key actors, and the city he lives and works in. As with Rankin’s previous books, Edinburgh is a character in itself – its geography, history and sense of place. The Complaints is an entertaining read, engaging with the present economic crisis and the downturn in the property market. As I posted a couple of days ago, my only real quibble was the core characters; I didn’t really take to any of them, especially in the first half of the book. I slightly warmed to Fox in the final quarter, but I didn’t find myself rooting for him in the same way as Rebus and Siobhan Clarke. That said, I will almost certainly read the next Rankin novel to feature Fox and ‘the complaints’ section.


Bernadette said...

I've never read a Rebus novel. I somehow managed to come across the TV show first and hated so much I have never wanted to read the books but I do mean to have a go at this one as I'm quite keen to read something of Rankin's. I think you're right though that it's hard to totally get hooked by a book when there isn't at least one character you like or admire.

Anonymous said...

Rob - Thanks for this review. I'm interested in the Fox stories, as I quite enjoyed the Rebus ones. As you and Bernadette mentioned, liking or not liking the main characters is an important factor in whether one enjoys a novel or series, so I'm not sure I'll like these as much. Still, Rankin is a terrific writer, so I will probably give these a try.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Rebus is a tough act to follow.