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I didn't think that Ian Rankin would ever be able to create another character who could compete with Rebus. I was wrong.

The first book in his new series, The Complaints, was good but this second one is even better. As members of the Professional Standards team, Inspector Malcolm Fox and his team are in Fife, looking into possible misconduct in the force there. When an ex-copper is found dead, Fox becomes aware that he had been looking into an old case - the death of a political activist which at the time had been classed as a suicide. Now Fox and his team have two cases on their hands.

One of the things I like most about Rankin is the way he sets his books firmly in the real world. With references to actual events and people, his plots become entirely convincing. He tells modern Scotland like it is - neither all good nor all bad. The short period in the eighties when Scottish nationalism turned briefly into terrorism is used for the main strand of the book. Rankin shows the contrast of those days, when fervent nationalists felt the democratic process held no hope for them, to the Scotland of today, with its devolved government, more confident and comfortable in its skin, with nationalism a question to be debated rather than won by force.

Malcolm Fox is turning into just as interesting a character as Rebus, if less of a maverick. Working in the Complaints, he has to face the obstruction and sometimes contempt of fellow officers, but he believes in what he's doing and wants to do it well. This time though a comment of his father makes him wonder if he has what it takes to investigate a real crime and that doubt acts as a spur to him to step outside his normal boundaries. In this book we also get to know more about his colleagues, Kaye and Naysmith. The interactions between them come over as convincing and enjoyable - three team players working well together. Fox's relationships with his father and sister are further developed and this glimpse into his life outside work makes him into a more rounded and believable character.

I'm delighted to hear that Rankin may bring Rebus back to us but I sincerely hope that Malcolm Fox is here for a long run too. Highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 24 April 2012
With the Malcolm Fox novels, Ian Rankin is exploring pretty much the same territory as he did with John Rebus, but from slightly different perspectives. We're still in Fife, still exploring what happens when politics and crime mix, and also still looking at the corruption that goes on inside the police and the consequences of this.

The Impossible Dead is readable enough, and certainly reminds of you of why Rankin is top of the list at this sort of thing: his dialogue is sharp and polished, gritty enough to sound like film script material, and witty enough to keep the pages turning at a fast rate.

But beneath this, there isn't that much going on that's new and exciting. Fox is a toned down Rebus; a man who doesn't drink, and who has family issues to juggle with his pressurised and often unpopular job. And, like Rebus, Fox encounters career politicians and coppers, and manages to rub them up the wrong way in his search for justice and fairness. To all intents and purposes, these are Rebus re-treads.

After a fairly complex and involved storyline here, featuring shady dealings from 1985 and the search for Scottish independence through violent means, it's something of a surprise and let down that the book ends with a rather rushed, shoot 'em up finale that doesn't quite fit with what's gone before. A little bit unlikely to be honest.

The Impossible Dead feels like Ian Rankin is treading water a little. The book is much better than the first non-Rebus title he came out with (Doors Open) - but Rebus is still leaving quite a big hole in need of filling, even though Fox is a strongish character on which another series seems to be unfolding.
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on 23 October 2011
Readers were first introduced to DI Malcolm Fox in a previous Rebus story (The Complaints, 2009).

Ian Rankin has made a seamless transition over to this new protagonist and with the author's usual easy writing style has come up trumps with a well developed character that will no doubt enthrall readers in an exciting series of tales.

Malcolm Fox is an intriguing mix of apathy and action; he is a solid character, single, drives a Volvo & doesn't drink alcohol any more, just sticking to water or Appletiser.

These stories see police procedurals from a different perspective - Rebus often broke the rules whereas Fox enforces them. He heads up a team in the Professional Standards Unit, more commonly known as 'The Complaints' of Lothian and Borders Police, the cops who investigate other cops. His cohorts in this story are DS Tony Kaye and DC Joe Naysmith.

Fox is quoted as stating: 'Maybe I want to make sure the {police} force is on the side of the angels.' For Malcolm Fox, the appeal of the Complaints was its focus on rules broken rather than bones, on cops who crossed the line but were not violent men.

Readers are taken on a journey through Edinburgh, Stirling, St Andrews and Fife - even to the State Mental Hospital at Carstairs in Lanark - as Fox and his team is asked to investigate three colleagues from the neighbouring Fife constabulary.

In the background, Fox struggles with the dilemma of balancing his work duties alongside appeasing his sister's frustration at the time and resources needed to care for their elderly father's illness.

As the story progresses, Fox is drawn into looking at the suspicious death of lawyer and nationalist Francis Vernal who was found dead in his car having crashed on a country road in Fife. There was also a gunshot wound to his head and the incident had never been fully investigated when it occurred some twenty years earlier in 1985. This part of the story bears striking resemblances to the non fictional case of nationalist Willie MacRae whose death occurred in the Highlands in 1985 in similar circumstances.

Rankin's writings are ever topical and the plot reflects the SNP and its activities in the mid 80's - perhaps especially pertinent at the moment, as the SNP party has just staged its first conference in Inverness this weekend.

EDIT: ** PLEASE SEE FictionFan's excellent comment on this review - she has kindly clarified the inaccuracies in my sentence above. **

The author's excellent descriptive skills are used to advantage to develop the personalities of his characters as well as eloquently taking readers on a journey through central Scotland.

I enjoyed this story immensely and I'm sure others will to. Rebus can surely sit back and relish his retirement!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 31 October 2011
I've enjoyed dozens of Ian Rankin's books and felt a pang when the Rebus series finished. However, the arrival of his new detective, Malcolm Fox, in The Complaints filled the gap and heralded a fine new series. To my disappointment, this second book in the new series, is not as good as the first. It is very slow to get going: there are pages and pages of chit-chat between Fox and his two side-kicks, Kaye and Naysmith, with descriptions of journeys around Fife, the scenery as they drive to and from Edinburgh and their problems over police inter-departmental friction. Yet, with all this descriptive stuff I never really get a picture in my mind of Fox who is two-dimensional, in contrast to Rebus, who is so clearly pictured in my mind by the books that when Ken Stott appeared in the TV series he was perfect. In the first book in the new series I welcomed the fact that Fox wasn't the usual hard-drinking, smoking stereotype of most detective series, but I don't feel his character has been developed enough for the reader to identify with him in his quests for truth.

Only when one gets well into the book does the action begin and then it goes off into all sorts of tangents: terrorism, police corruption, MI5, under-cover police activity, murder, suicide plus diversions into Fox's stormy relationship with his sister and worries over his father's deteriorating health. Having been a bit bored by the first half of the book I became confused over the plethora of story-lines in the latter part of the novel.
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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.
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on 20 February 2012
Fox is another dysfunctional middle aged white police detective. Does this sound familiar?
There is a hint of a structural analysis of the corruption of the police force and the inability of the police to objectively deal with this although this theme gets mired at the level of individual character and the two aspects are not integrated as in 'The Wire': it feels old fashioned even compared to such writers as Derek Raymond and David Peace.
The second theme of Scottish Nationalism starts off with interesting ideas but then enters Never-Never Land with Fox being pursued by a MP through a forest: I can just see Alex Salmond doing this as he tries to erase his past of working for BP!
I enjoyed the book but I would like to see something a little more radical in comparison with his other books.
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on 20 February 2012
I was looking forward to this second outing for Fox and the Complaints team. The premise though just doesn't work and the early exchanges are the same cliched response of cops dislike the other cops investigating their own. However, the germ of the real story is excellent and shows Rankin at his best it is just hung off the wrong peg. Much to enjoy and a fast final 100 pages will not disappoint you, with excellent character development leading one to hope the series will continue. Fox though is too good a detective to remain in Complaints and the nuances of that line of work have been exhausted. Rankin must decide to either write stand alone novels or reposition Fox so he can grow and prosper in a credible back-story.
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on 17 December 2011
Ian Rankin usually lays a foundation of current and past events in his novels. And, in this second Malcolm Fox mystery, he creates a tale reaching back a quarter of a century, when agitation and violence marked efforts for a separate Scotland. Fox, who made his debut in "The Complaints," grows exponentially as a protagonist, along with his sidekicks on his Internal Affairs team, Tony Kaye and Joe Naysmith. They are worthy successors to the now retired Rebus, although more subtle in the presentation.

This murder-mystery has its beginnings in an investigation of fellow cops who may have covered up for a corrupt co-worker, Detective Paul Carter, who had been found guilty of misconduct. The original accuser was Carter's uncle, an ex-op himself. When the uncle is found dead, perhaps murdered with a pistol that theoretically did not exist for it should have been destroyed by the police in 1985, and Carter himself dead by drowning shortly afterward, Fox is drawn into his own inquiry outside the aegis of a Complaints review, resurrecting the turmoil of the past and terrorist threats of the present.

Rankin also demonstrates his trademark attention to character development, concentrating much of the story on the deterioration of Fox' father's physical well-being and his relationship with his sister, each with sensitivity and care. At the same time, the author shows his talent for integrating the setting, plot and theme, tightly intertwining the various elements. Highly recommended.
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Ian Rankin is my favorite Scottish author, I loved his Inspector Rebus, and am coming to like his Inspector Malcolm Fox. Like Rebus, Malcolm Fox is a loner, not really happy in this job, but he loves police work. Working for the 'Complaints' is a job looking into the lives of his colleagues and their misdeeds. No one likes them, can't say I blame them, but as Malcolm says, " Someone's got to do it."

Inspector Malcolm Fox's latest investigation is a doozy. He and his two fellow officers are in the Scottish town of Kirkcaldy, about an hour out of Edinburgh. Here they are to look into a detective who has sexually assaulted several women. Of course, the small police force resents this intrusion, and do their best to cover up for the office, Paul Carter. Finding no help within the police building, they go outside and talk to everyone and anyone who might have known Paul and/or his family. Malcolm ends up talking to Paul's uncle, Alan a gruff old gent, but seems he is full of honesty and knows his stuff. He is the one who made the original complaint against Paul. Alan is an ex-officer. The team also talks to a woman who was assaulted, and instead of help, she becomes riled up and tires to slit her wrists. Nothing, it seems, is going right for this team. Alan Carter is found dead, suggestive of a suicide, but it is very suspicious. The investigation proceeds, and this is where some of the really interesting plot falls apart for me. The terrorism that plagues us today had its origins many years ago, and some of that is brought into this novel. The team apparently feels the same, and so does Malcolm's boss. They all want him to stop, no need to go further. But Malcolm is a perfectionist, and he must find the truth.

We are privy to some of Malcolm's personal issues in this novel. His father is ill, his angry, unemployed sister helps to care for him, and Malcolm must spend time getting to know both of them in a better light. Malcolm Fox is growing on me. This is the second novel of Ian Rankins about the Complaints. This department is OK, but I am becoming weary of the hostility that accompanies each story set. His reputation is growing, so soon, I hope, a station will welcome him, and we can move on.

Recommended. prisrob 05-10-13
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on 18 November 2011
One could say that it is sometimes a blessing to be a British crime fiction author, since the local publishers do not ask their writers to deliver a new book every six months, and thus the standards one has come to expect of them remain high as ever.
Ian Rankin is one of those "lucky" authors and so we are not surprised to receive yet another great novel from him. In this his main protagonist is inspector Malcolm Fox whom we've first met in his previous novel, The Complaints, who's now called to investigate whether three cops of the Kirkcaldy precinct have in any way facilitated the actions of one of their colleagues, who's been found guilty in a court of law for misconduct. Paul Carter, the policeman in question, was accused of asking favors of a particular kind from three women in exchange for not arresting them for some minor misdemeanors.
From the very first moment that Fox and his partners, Joe Naysmith and Tony Kaye, arrive in town, they can feel a cloud of suspicion and enmity settle all over them. Of course that is hardly surprising since not a single cop likes the members of his team, because of what they do; and that is, in their eyes, work against their own people. One thing that's kind of strange, or rather surprising though, is that there's more to this case than what at first meets the eye. For starters, the man who gave Carter in was his uncle Alan, a retired cop. Then there are the connections of this said uncle with the criminal elements of the city. And, then come the facts of the distant past that suddenly spring to life during the investigation; facts that have taken place in Scotland back in 1985, a year of mayhem and relevant chaos, and which are in some strange way connected with what is happening today. Finally are the orders; the orders that come from the higher ups and who demand of Fox and his team to back off this case, as some ghosts are better to remain buried; but which ghosts and why?
Rankin, using a simple investigative case as his vehicle, drives the reader back to the past and talks to him in a rather straightforward way about the widely unknown, or maybe forgotten, history of his country. Through the narration we get to learn about the student unrests of the 80's, the nationalist movement and the communists of the era, about the armed groups and the revolutions that never came to be. And returning back to the present we find out some things about modern day Scotland, a place where poverty and unemployment are widespread, where alcoholism, drug addiction and crime, as well as corruption rule the day.
The author paints a world that is bleak, on the brink of destruction, but which, thankfully, is not quite there yet. And he also paints a world where hope for a better future is still, if barely, alive. Fox reminds us in one way or another of Rebus, but he is special in his own way. He doesn't drink, even though his sister is an alcoholic; he likes to be alone, even though he seems to desperately seek the company of a woman; and he does everything he possibly can to help those, who willingly or not make his life difficult. Of course he is not perfect, he has his flaws; but it's exactly these flaws that make him look so deeply humane.
This is one of the best crime novels of the year. Just read it.
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