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.
I sent for this book pre-publication as have read all of Rankin's previous work and looked forward to reading it. I would say (and it almost hurts me to say this) that I was a little disappointed with it. I just never felt the plot had much bite to it, it seemed slightly bitty and confused at times. I do think the character of Fox is developing slowly and you can almost feel Rankin working this out sometimes on the page! The relationship with his sister though, is very well drawn and only too believable. To be honest, I think a lot of this is because Rankin takes chances in his work, pushing himself than staying in a cosy corner with Rebus, for instance. I've heard it said before, that some find his work variable in standard. Actually, I would think its probably down to this risk taking factor. All artists have to push themselves to go forward and the "birth" process can be difficult. Rebus took a while to get off, and the books became better with time as the character developed and the plots became more believable. I would still rather that an intelligent author do this than not, its still a pleasant read, just probably not his best.
Yes, it's OK, it's very readable, well-written as you'd expect but it's left me unsatisfied. I'm not going to be one of those who harp on about Rebus but I really can't see where Rankin's going with Malcolm Fox. I even wonder whether he's got a tongue in his cheek. Fox is almost the opposite of Rebus and is no better for that. I can't see that there is any depth to him whatsoever and little to like; in fact, I'd go as far as calling him 'wet'. Neither can I understand the choice of the 'Complaints' as a basis for novels. These are guys who all coppers must dislike much as teachers loathe Ofsted inspectors and I can't help but be disposed against them. And the thing is, in this novel, the fact that Fox and his oppos are looking into 'unprofessional' police behaviour is soon put aside as if Rankin isn't really interested in it and Fox reverts to what he, presumably, used to be - a CID Inspector. So why do it in the first place? Fox begins to dig into the pasts of characters involved in [more modern] moves for Scottish independence though ironically there is a meeting arranged at one point beneath the Wallace memorial in Stirling ['those days are passed now...']. Fox doesn't drink; he has a failed marriage; he's had a one-night fling with a policewoman which he somehow can't come to terms with; he has an ailing father and a difficult sister. Which kind of sums him up really. I've heard rumours of a Rebus return which to me seems to say that Rankin himself isn't over happy with his new creation. And who exactly is/are the 'impossible dead'? Rebus? Braveheart? We'll see what comes.
on 14 January 2012
I am sorry to say the above, as I have read and enjoyed all of Ian Rankin's books until this one(he is one of my favourite authors). I unfortunately have to agree with the more negative reviews on this site. It was an effort to finish this book.
Normally I finish a Rankin book within a day or two, this one took about two weeks. I just could not engage with the plot or the characters. I felt the author was just going through the motions. The story plodded along with little action and in the end I could not care less what happened to any of the characters.
That said, I had no problem with the Fox character in 'The Complaints' and quite enjoyed that book, though it was not a 4-5 star book, but had potential for the future, or so I thought. I am sure that if you have never read a previous Rankin book then you would probably enjoyed this one, however, this book does not compare to the same standard.
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.
on 17 June 2012
It's always sad when a well-loved series comes to its natural end - I've read somewhere that Ian Rankin wishes he'd started off writing about John Rebus as a much younger copper, to get a few more books out of the character before he reached retirement age. So I was very pleased to discover this, the second book in a new detective series also set in Edinburgh but with a new protagonist, police investigator Malcolm Fox.
Anything by this author is always going to be readable, and the story's fine, if a bit too wide-ranging. But comparisons are inevitable, I'm afraid, and Fox just isn't a patch on Rebus. He's far too pally with his sidekicks for a start, and the family problems seem a little too off-the-peg. I know it's early days yet, but I still can't picture him, and that was never a problem with the chippy, shambolic yet infuriatingly charismatic Rebus: he was always right there in your face.
It was always going to be a hard act to follow, so why didn't Rankin create a completely different setting for this new series, thus avoiding these unfair comparisons? It's Morse and Lewis all over again: but at least he didn't kill Rebus off, and I can't be the only one to wish that Fox will one day bump into him in the Ox, so they can discuss the case over a few drinks and a fish supper!
So I won't be waiting for the next Malcolm Fox like I did the next Rebus, though I'll probably continue with this series - but via the library rather than the bookshop.
Three and a half stars.