In The Complaints Rankin introduced his new detective, Inspector Malcolm Fox, who has his second outing in "The Impossible Dead". I struggled there not to write "his new, post Rebus detective..." and really feel I ought to review the book in it's own terms and not mention the previous series. It's hard though. It seems that in many respects Fox is constructed as a not-Rebus - teetotal (albeit with a less sober past), less of a loner, a policeman who, as part of The Complaints, investigates the Rebuses of this work. Ignoring that seems to miss the point. Also, to construct a compelling story - which this is - Rankin has to take Fox on a little trip to... well not perhaps Rebusland, but somewhere close. After all, the obedient, rule following policeman doesn't tend to engage in the kind of confrontations - against superiors, authority, procedure or villains - that make for a page turning crime novel.
So here we have Fox and his team making slow progress across the river in Fife with a routine case involving low level corruption and cover-ups, when a murder happens. Although it is only tenuously connected to their own case, and is out of their Force's area, Fox bends his enquiry beyond breaking point to follow up the murder, eventually taking in a mysterious death twenty five years before, gun running, Scottish terrorism in the 80s, and much more. The story goes at a breakneck pace with the villain confronted in a dramatic climax. All great fun, even if the ending seems unlikely (more so, actually, than most of the Rebus stories). And some genuinely interesting thoughts about the recent Scottish past, and the half familiar, half strange world of the 1980s whose atmosphere of paranoia is a key part of the background to this book.
However, I wasn't sure whether, with Fox, Rankin is going to be able to go on having his cake and eating it much longer. The sort of behaviour that Fox gets away with in this book, with only the occasional slap on the wrist, was sort-of credible for an edgy loner like Rebus, but Fox is in the spotlight, in a role where he must, like Ceasar's wife, be above suspicion. Either he's in the wrong job and will soon be out of the Complaints, or it will get more and more difficult to suspend belief enough to enjoy these stories - which would be a pity, so I hope that Rankin takes the other course and lets Fox become the detective he seems to want to be.