The only books by Ian Rankin I had read were Strip Jack, Resurrection Men, Fleshmarket Close and The Naming of the Dead. Therefore when the Scottish author bravely retired his aging detective Detective Inspector John Rebus, and started a new series I knew I must eventually read The Complaints. Would his new protagonist be as interesting a character as Rebus?
The narrative of The Complaints develops over a couple of weeks in February 2009. This was the period when the economy collapsed and Scotland’s capital city Edinburgh, the headquarters of several major banks, was suffering from the worst of a property price implosion and the disruption from a project for a tram system that would cost millions.
Inspector Malcolm Fox works in ‘Complaints and Conduct’, the cops who look into both minor and major infractions of the rules by the police. Fox works in the Professional Standards Unit who deal with the most serious matters such as racism and corruption. They are naturally very unpopular with their colleagues, who regard them as beneath contempt. At the start of the story Fox has successfully wound up an enquiry into the activities of Glen Heaton , a CID detective who has been bending the rules for many years. Fox has sent the case evidence on to the Procurator Fiscal, the official who decides on prosecutions in Scotland.
Malcolm Fox is a policeman in his forties, he is divorced, wears unfashionable braces, is teetotal because he is an ex-alcoholic, has a sister Jude with a violent boyfriend, and an aging father Mitch living in an expensive care home. Is there any other kind? He listens to the birdsong station on the radio, eats Chinese takeaways or curry, and spends his leisure time not rearranging his books on his bookshelves. Fox is ordered to liaise with Annie Inglis at CEOP [Child Exploitation and Online Protection] and assist with an investigation into a worldwide child pornography ring apparently involving a local detective, Jamie Breck. Breck’s credit card has been used to join the ring, but he hasn’t yet sent any of images to the group. Is Jamie Breck a paedophile, or a victim of an online scam?
The situation becomes extremely complicated when Jude’s violent partner Vince Faulkner is found brutally murdered and Breck is one of the detectives assigned to the case, along with his boss Billy Giles, a close friend of Glen Heaton.
Up to this point the story had gripped me, and I was even ready to go straight on to the sequel The Impossible Dead. Rankin had set the scene brilliantly, as he knows his territory and his cops. But then suddenly the story went wildly off at a tangent with the reader bombarded with a plethora of fairly standard crime fiction characters. Property developers, cops, robbers, tough men and glamourous women all mixed up in a complex plot, with Fox not able to trust anyone.
The woman who stepped out was wearing high heels, black tights and a black knee-length skirt. The skirt clung to her. White silk blouse open at the neck to show a pendant of some kind.
There is nothing extravagant about Rankin’s prose, or his terse dialogue.
Kaye paused, angling his head towards the newspaper.
‘ She’s a looker, though-wonder what first attracted her to the pot-bellied, balding tycoon.’
I know Ian Rankin is a Scottish icon, and even mild criticism appears to be like trying to reverse the result of the Battle of Bannockburn, but in my opinion this book was a little too long, had too convoluted a plot without any real surprises, and the conclusion was frankly unbelievable.
It was a great pity because Malcolm Fox was a likeable character and had a lot of potential. Rankin is an easy read, and the descriptions of the dark side of the city and the social comment were excellent. Perhaps I was expecting more from such an experienced crime fiction writer, whose frequent television appearances I enjoy so much. I got the impression he had tangled up the various plot threads and then he struggled to unravel and explain them in the last hundred pages.
Interestingly I read the other day that Ian Rankin is bringing back Rebus …………..
I respect other reviewers who might have enjoyed this book a lot more than I did. But what I find mildly irritating is those reviewers who appear to have read an entirely different book. For instance the newspaper review which boldly states that “Fox copes admirably with whatever Rankin throws at him: getting beaten up, being suspended from duty, a romance with a colleague.” If what occurs in the pages of The Complaints between Annie Inglis and Malcolm Fox can be regarded as a “romance” then life must be incredibly dull north of the border.