on 6 July 2004
Anyone who has experienced an Iain Banks novel knows what kind of territory we are entering into long before those first few vital sentences grab us like the piercing jaws of hell; refusing to let us go until that final, writhing moment, when the clues (and the body count) add up, and the world of the story comes tumbling in on it's self in a spectacularly, jaw-dropping fashion. The worlds he is able to create are bleak... filled with stark elements of reality and the kind of horrors ripped from the headlines. There's humour too, albeit, darker than anything you can image; though it is the snaking, ever-shifting plot, the attention to character, and the terrifying situations we are thrown into that mark out books like The Wasp Factory, The Bridge and this, as the classics they are... which, really, can't help but leave us coming back for more.
Complicity is probably Banks' most disturbing work... giving us a portrait of the everyman thrown into circumstances that go beyond the realms of mere explicitness, as the writer gives us one of his most wince-inducing modern-horrors, coupled with possibly his greatest character, that of self-proclaimed gonzo-journalist Cameron Colley. In Banks' world, Colley is a man fairly content to live his life in the fast-lane... cruising from one-story to the next on a tidal-wave of drugs, drink, video-games & adulterous sex. However, when a series of seemingly random, and increasingly graphic murders and assaults begin to occur throughout the politically-immoral England of the early-nineties, Cameron finds himself hot-on-the trail of an exceedingly stealthy and disturbed serial-killer who may, or may not, be closer than he thinks...
By the end of the book Banks has succeeded in putting his characters through all manner of physical and emotional degradation - as ghosts from the past and (literal) skeletons from the closet begin tumbling out of every available hidey-hole... - thus, the author is now able to shift the focus away from the killer theatrics of the preceding chapters to create an emotional dénouement that looks specifically at notions of constancy and morality. This is a deeply atmospheric work, with Banks alternating between the passive narrative voice in order to set-up situations that act as a self-aware red herring for the reader. As others have mentioned... this isn't a book for the faint-hearted, or those easily offended. Banks cuts right to the point with all the guile and precision of knife-wielding mad man, but is able to lift his story out of the mire of pulp-exploitation through the use of inventive scenarios, 3D characterisations and an undeniable way with words.
Complicity is one of those great books that draw you in from the first page and never let you go... leading everywhere and nowhere simultaneously, whilst leaving you gasping with anticipation to find out just what will happen next. It's the kind of book you'll complete after a couple of days... emerging from the winding, writhing narrative, shocked by the horrors you have witnessed, but, at the same time, desperate to go back and re-analyse those all important clues.
Let's see, we have journalism, sex, computer games, sex, mysterious phone calls, kinky sex and murders... lots of them. Yep, must be another Iain Banks classic. I've read half a dozen Banks books now and the last two (Song Of Stone and Walking On Glass) left me feeling a bit wanting as I hadn't enjoyed them as much as some of the others, so I approached Complicity with mixed feelings. I'm pleased to say all misgivings were banished by the time I'd finished the second page and from then on I was sucked in to this darkly twisted tale.
I'll not give any of the plot away but safe to say it has the usual splashes of sardonic humour, great characterisation, whimsical anecdotes and extreme violence that you would associate with an Iain Banks book. Some readers might find the violence a bit excessive (one of my female friends admitted to reading through her fingers) but it is essential to the plot and as the victims were not exactly blameless people you kind of acquiesce to it and maybe that's the idea: it's not merely the complicity of the central character to the crimes, but also the tacit consent of the reader.
Anyway, give yourself a treat and give this very modest 310 page thriller a whirl. Guaranteed to make you laugh out loud, get your pulse going, make you squirm and, best of all, keep you guessing. If buying for another person, make sure he/she is a broad-minded sort.
Iain Banks was born in Scotland in 1954 and published his first book - "The Wasp Factory" - in 1984. In the years since, he's won critical acclaim, topped best-seller lists and has even written Science Fiction books under the cunning nom-de-plume 'Iain M. Banks'. "Complicity" was first published in 1993, and is his seventh non sci-fi book.
Cameron Colley is a journalist based in Edinburgh. working for "The Caledonian". He has an eye for trouble, and enjoys using his articles to take pot-shots at the 'establishment' and big business. His past-times include alcohol, drugs and a computer game called "Despot" - one which sounds very similar to Civ II. Cameron's social circle seems quite small - there's William and Yvonne, a couple he met at university. The pair are married, though Cameron has no qualms about enjoying Yvonne (in as kinky a manner as possible) on a very regular basis. There's also Andy, who Cameron has known pretty much all his life. Andy has 'achievment' written all over his past - he was an officer in the Falklands War and was subsequently awarded the DSO. On leaving the army, he went into advertising - where he came up with the BIG campaigns for several global companies. After that, he then opened a chain of very successful shops, became obscenely rich...and then, strangely, dropped out. Andy is now living in a dilapidated old hotel (his own, naturally) in the Highlands - doing little other than drink and drugs, apparently..
Workwise, Cameron is quite possibly on the verge on something big : he has a mole feeding - "Mr Archer" - feeding him about five high-profile deaths within the nuclear and security services. All five victims died within two years of each other and, although all were officially written off as suicides, there have been rumours of something murky about the deaths. Cameron isn't the first to have looked into the story -however, he's hoping Archer's information will lead him somewhere. (If what's he's been told is true, it's quite possible it could lead to to Iraq).
Unfortunately, while Cameron's working on his mole-inspired story, another set of very high-profile individuals are finding themselves being assaulted and / or murdered. The problem, as it turns out, is that all the victims have been lambasted in one of Cameron's articles.
"Complicity" is definitely a book I'd recommend - which is hardly a surprise, given that it's been written by Iain Banks. Banks has a certain way of telling a story I enjoy - the occasional jump back and forward, and the hint of looking at something from a slightly different angle. Most of the book is told by Cameron ("I drive the car up the little single track road leading towards the low hills"), part of the book is also told about the killer. Although it does mean we know who's getting killed and how they're dying, practically nothing is given away about the killers identity. It's even (deliberately) vague about the killer's gender - for example, "you get to the bedside and raise the log over your head". Excellent stuff.
on 4 February 2012
Finished this book last night whilst being incredibly tired and ill in bed, as I literally couldn't wait any longer. Complicity is up there with Crow Road and Wasp Factory, a gripping and disturbing thriller that really makes you think. I would highly recommend you set aside a weekend and read this outstanding thriller. I would love to see what Hollywood could make out of this great great story.
on 24 February 2013
This isn't my usual genre but I'm happy to say I eventually found this book more satisfying than I'd initially expected, after reading the first few chapters.
I've bought Crow Road, too, as I haven't yet made my mind up about the author. But, overall, this was a riveting read with a mildly interesting philosophical dilemma thrown in; and it offered a couple of wisdom-nuggets somewhere near the end, which I was thankful for as they gave the story additional value.
I'll pass it on to my partner as he enjoys crime-thrillers. If that's your thing, this is definitely worth reading.
Contains a fairly graphic sex scene that may not be appropriate for younger readers.
on 24 July 2013
I had never read an Iain Banks book before and this is the one I chose to read as an introduction to his work after I heard of his recent death. For some reason I thought this was a political thriller but the first chapter starts with a murder and it held me throughout; the chapter, that is.
It starts off - "You hear the car after an hour and a half. During that time you've been here in the darkness, sitting on the small telephone seat near the front door, waiting. You only moved once, after half an hour, when you went back through to the kitchen to check on the maid. She was still there, eyes white in the darkness. There was a strange, sharp smell in the air and you thought of cats, though you know he doesn't have cats. Then you realised the maid had pissed herself. You felt a moment of disgust, and then a little guilt."
That's right; he has the maid bound and gagged and he is waiting for the VIP of a man to come in to the house, in Belgravia, which he does. When he does, he hits him, ties his girl friend up, and puts her with the maid, then drags the VIP up the stairs and throws him out of the front window where he lands on some spike - one of which goes through the victim's eye socket.
Well that first chapter certainly grabbed my attention and it's a strange technique for a writer to, kind of, write to the killer as opposed writing in the first person or the third.
In the second chapter he does, indeed, write in the first person in the form of the narrator who turns out to be a boring, boozy journalist, Cameron, who is trying to find out what is happening in the nuclear industry somewhere in Scotland, somewhere away from Edinburgh, where most of the novel is set.
There is a mystery voice on the phone who sends him here, sends him there, as something is going on and it may be big; bigger than his other story about the whisky industry and what they are doing to the usquebaugh?
He also spends a lot of time playing on a 'game consul,' masturbating taking drugs or making love to a married women he knew at University. There is a guilt complex as he is very friendly with her husband from the same University and he kind of 'hero worships' his other friend Andy, whom he has known since they were both children and who has been away with the army fighting a war.
The strange thing about this story is that Iain Banks, himself, in real life (whatever that is) died of lung cancer; in this book (written in the 90s) it looks, but I don't think it gets confirmed, that Cameron - the me in the writing - has lung cancer and in Banks' last novel, The Quarry, the leading character has lung cancer; all written before Mister Banks knew of his own fate with the illness.
After the first murderous chapter, we are intermittently transported to other murder scenes; we are back to "you are doing this, you are doing that" - as there are, indeed, a few murders and the victims appear to be connected by the evil that men do.
It is well worth your time if you are looking for a 'good read' but there is a curious final chapter: now don't worry I won't spoil it for you.
At one point the police pick Cameron up and interrogate him; he seems to have been in the locale at the time of some of the murders so the cops think he knows something even if he doesn't know he knows!
When it is all over, and everything seems to have drawn to a conclusion, the narrator disappears; it doesn't go to the third person but to that strange technique of . . .. is it the fourth person? We are back to "you are doing this, you are doing that" - Are we mistaken? Did the wrong person get away? I'm not sure.
Cameron Colley is one of the most loathsome heroes ever to grace a crime novel. Fortunately, it's the self-obsessed, substance abusing, kinky sex indulging, life-in-the-fast-lane attitude of this book's narrator which makes "Complicity" an un-put-downable read. Its combination of relentless pace and continual moral ambiguity mean that this is not a book for the faint-hearted. A host of truly gruesome characters meet truly gruesome, stomach churningly violent, deaths. Sordid secrets are revelled in. But like all Iain Banks' best works, the heart of this book is a mystery story so compelling that the book is practically un-put-downable. If you're a Banks fan, in some ways this book is the pinnacle of his cynicism and a brilliant example of his gift for telling a compelling story. If you're a devotee of crime novels, this is the ultimate whodunnit for the fag-end of the 20th century. If you like exploring deep questions of personal and social morality, there's more than enough subtext in this book to keep you philosophising for weeks. My only criticism is the total lack of subtlety. Banks can do subtle, as "The Crow Road" and "Whit" prove. He chose not to in this opus. But I'll let the reader decide whether the book loses by it, or gains.
on 25 April 2011
Being honest, I didn't expect to enjoy this book so no-one was more surprised than me when, once past the hundred page mark, I read the rest in one sitting.
Iain Banks's dark nineties characters are not my usual cup of tea and to begin with I felt a datedness to the story that seemed awkward. I am, however, well attuned to the Scottish psyche and this is something that Banks does so well that soon I no longer noticed or was even put off by the nineties backdrop - or the graphic violence and even more (porno)graphic exploits of our nineties protagonist, Cameron.
For anyone that struggles with this - the plot really kicks in at about page 150 and after this it all just flows effortlessly. I found that this book really engaged and challenged my mind - made think that I'd been reading little more than white bread sandwiches for months. Now what do I read next?
on 26 March 1999
If you want to read a gripping novel, but something rather more substantial than your John Grisham's etc, then Complicity is the book. Banks has rapidly become my favourite author, and Coplicity is exceptionally well written, most similar in tone, perhaps, to The Wasp Factory but radically different in terms of the plot. Mostly in the present-tense and swapping between first and second-person narratives for reasons that become clear near the end. The lead character is one of the most fully-rounded and convincing who's head I've ever been allowed inside. They're making this into a film at the moment, which probably won't be anything like as good, so I strongly recommend you to buy the book as soon as possible.
on 8 March 2010
Being a new reader of Iain Banks, I tried to make the first one I read, one of his most acclaimed books and for good reason. I have just finished the book and enjoyed it immensely. I like Jonathon Coe books and this didn't disappoint as a comparison to some of Coe's wonderfully writhing plots, replete with chicanery, sanguinary acts of violence and dark, macarbre humour. The plot was wonderfully paced and the characters engaging. The violence was gruesome and disturbing at times but never gratuitous, and never violence for the sake of violence, and always with enough black humour to induce a guilty laugh at, what in essence shouldn't really be laughter inducing. If you're new to Banks, as I was, make this the first one!