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by Ian Rankin
Orion, October 2011
416 pages
$24.99 CAD
ISBN: 0752889540

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Malcolm Fox, who first appeared in THE COMPLAINTS, is still working for that unpopular department that investigates the misdeeds of other coppers. This time, Fox and his colleagues are in Fife to look into the case of a constable, Paul Carter, who's been ratted out by his own uncle, himself a retired policeman. Whatever happened, it involved drugs, sexual favours, and studied indifference and now two more women are accusing Carter of offering to drop charges against them in return for their being "accommodating."

It's the sort of thing that Fox is used to dealing with and he and his team receive the usual unfriendly reception when they show up in Fife. Rankin is very good at capturing the tone of hostile non-cooperation that carefully avoids outright insubordination that must characterize this sort of interaction in police forces the world over. But rather rapidly, this simple case spins out, leading Fox deep into the heart of an intricate plot dating back thirty years or so, one that might well involve some very respectable persons now in high places, persons who would be much happier if some of their youthful activities remained well forgotten.

To complicate Fox's life, his father, who's been housed in an assisted-living facility at Fox's expense, has had a stroke and will need more elaborate care. As all too often happens, this brings Fox and his sister Jude into the kind of conflict that dates back to their childhood. Some of the sharpest writing in THE IMPOSSIBLE DEAD comes about in the scenes between Jude and Fox. Jude, feeling guilty that her situation makes it impossible for her to offer any financial support for her father and obscurely angry at Fox because he can, does her best to shift the burden of guilt to her brother for his emotional shortcomings. Behind all this is the perennial sibling wail, "Daddy always liked you best," complicated and softened by family affection.

I wish it were possible to review the new series without referring to Rebus, but even Rankin seems unable to ignore him completely, as he makes a faint whisper of an appearance in a passing reference by a forensics officer. The problem is not, I think, that Fox is not Rebus; it is that The Complaints is not Lothian and Borders Homicide. Its remit is too limited and Rankin seems already to be feeling the constraint. The plot develops into one more suited to the regular detective service rather than to the narrower confines of Professional Ethics and Standards and the novel is all the better for it. In the end, Fox proves he is a "real" detective after all, as capable as Rebus of getting to the bottom of a complex series of events and laying the ground for the further development of a character who may be able to keep his demons in check but who certainly has them all the same.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, November 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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