Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ian Rankin retires Rebus and sets this tale of dirty cops in The Complaints.

I always enjoy Ian Rankin’s Scottish police tales, and this one is as good as any I’ve read.

The Complaints

In The Complaints (448 pages, Reagan Arthur Books, $24.99), Ian Rankin moves beyond John Rebus, who retired in the novel Doors Open, and opens what might become a new series centered on the fascinating Malcolm Fox. Fox works in the Complaints office, which investigates internal affairs and the police’s own wrongdoing. Needless to say, that places him in harm’s way almost automatically.

The plot of this latest thriller is very complicated, but suffice it to say that Fox himself gets implicated in some wrongdoing of his own, and in struggling his way out of the accusation, he finds that there are very few people in the force (or out of it) whom he can trust.

When his sister’s ne’re-do-well boyfriend is brutally murdered, Fox meets Jamie Breck, who is investigating that crime. But Fox has already been asked to investigate Breck on the charge of child pornography. As Fox finds himself becoming friends with Breck, he starts to realize that they have both been set up for a fall.

In the course of working out the plot, Rankin creates some wonderful characters. Fox himself, single (and still hurting from the breakup) and sober (and still salivating when he sees a vodka bottle), is wound so tight that he seems ready to explode. Breck, much cooler, explains his ease in tight situations to the hours he spends on a role-playing video game. The other cops in Complaints are fascinating, and so are the several female figures who conduct their own investigations of the two policemen.

One of these women, Annie Inglis, fascinates Fox, and they almost become close. But in the end something comes between them. Something similar happens with Caroline Stoddard, who is brought in to investigate both men. At a certain point, Fox has to decide whether she might offer the chance to escape the trap into which he has fallen. This is a gamble, but he decides that he can trust this woman. Whether or not he is right is part of the thrill of the story.

Rankin paints a wonderful picture of Edinburgh at the moment of the recent financial collapse. Everything that transpires is the result of a sudden drop in the economy and the collapse of the property market that results. People holding deeds to worthless building projects are liable to do some dastardly things, and Rankin loves nothing better than taking us into the backrooms to witness their sleazy dealings.

Some critics writing about this novel lament the absence of Rebus. But I enjoy seeing Rankin doing something new and figuring out how to handle this new assortment of characters he has introduced. I have to say, Rankin never disappoints. This is a novel to stack up against his best.

Ian Rankin

The Complaints is available at Powell's, Vroman's and Amazon.

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