The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin: Malcolm Fox Uncovers Corruption both Past and Present

The Impossible DeadThe Impossible Dead

by Ian Rankin
Series: Malcolm Fox, #2

Hardcover, 391 pg.
Reagan Arthur Books, 2018
Read: December 24 – 26, 2018

Detective Paul Carter has been found guilty of some pretty clear-cut criminal activity. Fox and his team have been brought into investigate a neighboring force, Carter’s own, to see who might have been involved with him — or at the least covered up for him. They weren’t involved with the original investigation, but that doesn’t keep anyone from hating them as they come in for the follow-up.

Not too surprisingly, they’re getting nowhere fast. So they go fishing — not talking to the detectives they’re looking into, but witnesses and others. One of them ends up dead not long after Fox talks to him. There’s enough hinky in the crime scene, what the witness had told Fox — and the fact the detectives in charge are the same ones that Fox and his team are looking into, that Fox determines he needs to look into things.

There’s a tie between this murder and an old cold case involving a firebrand politician tied to the more militant wing of Scottish Nationalism. Fox is convinced that the two crimes are linked and he sets about proving who killed one man as a way to finding the killer of the other. This two-pronged focus of the book keeps Fox, his partners, and the readers on their toes.

Despite all the differences between the two characters (which will become even more obvious, it seems in the next Rebus book), they ultimately operate best in the same way, as lone wolves. But when Rebus goes off on his own and causes trouble, it’s just par for the course. When Fox does it, it’s out character — he’s a team player (at least he wants to be), so there’s a lot of mechanics involved in getting him off on his own. In The Complaints it took a conspiracy to isolate Fox, here, it takes one detective Fox crossed to take advantage of his tenuous link to a crime.

But on his own, Fox will do more to uncover the facts not just of the murder he’s wanting to investigate, the investigation he’s supposed to be running, and a very cold case. Yes, he does work with his friends who are still on the inside, to confirm or deepen his knowledge (and he does feed information back to them), but he’s very much on his own.

There’s a good amount of family drama again for Fox — grounding Fox and giving a dimension to the character that is good to see (even if it doesn’t always bring out the best in him).

I very much enjoyed watching Fox work — and try to stay near the system, if he can’t stay in it. The solutions to the crimes are well done — by both Fox and Rankin. We even get a little bit of a cameo-like appearance of good ol’ Rebus. Nothing about this really blew me away, but I was gripped throughout, and entertained by the whole thing. Rankin’s good enough that he doesn’t have to dazzle you as a reader to be very aware that you’re in the hands of a master. Fox would be worth following on his own, and I’m glad we got to see him for a couple of books before he comes park of the greater universe surrounding Rebus.

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4 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge

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The Complaints by Ian Rankin: Introducing the anti-Rebus, Malcolm Fox

The ComplaintsThe Complaints

by Ian Rankin

Series: Malcolm Fox, #1

Hardcover, 438 pg.
Little, Brown and Co., 2011

Read: November 20 – 22, 2018

I left the last Rankin book thinking, “If I didn’t know that there were more Rebus books coming, I’d be really depressed.” There are advantages to being this far behind a series. Thanks to a podcast interview I heard with Rankin around the time I started to plan my Rebus reading (I think it was this A Stab in the Dark episode), I knew that at some point, he pushed “Pause” on Rebus to introduce a new character — initially, I think, to replace Rebus. But it didn’t work out that way. Still, I wanted to read them in chronological order, so I could appreciate it when the new guy was merged into the Rebus books.

And that’s where we are now, with the introduction of The New Guy: Malcolm Fox, of the Complaints and Conduct division (aka “The Complaints”) — essentially, Internal Affairs (aka “The Rat Squad”). It’s almost like Rankin came up with a list of Rebus’ characteristics and put a “not-” in front of every one of them to create him. He doesn’t drink (because he’ll end up like Rebus does, or worse), he follows the rules (generally speaking), he gets along with and respects/trusts his superiors, he’s close with his family . . . et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. He’s a lot more likeable than Rebus, too — as a person and as a fictional character. He’s not as well-developed — this is his first book and Rebus had 17 at that point, so that makes sense. Although, typically, IAB/Complaints type characters are usually dramatic obstacles to the series protagonists and are therefore little-liked, so that was strange.

The novel starts with Fox riding high — he’s just closed a major investigation, and is doing clean up on that when he’s given a new assignment. He’ll be helping out another division — I suddenly forgot their name, but essentially, they’re the equivalent of the Special Victims Unit. So right away you know this is not going to be a fun book — a detective who polices the police investigating sex crimes. There’s just no way to paint a “fun-loving romp” face on that premise.

But before we can get too far down that road, a pretty big complication arises. (Minor Spoiler warning) The abusive boyfriend of Fox’s sister is found murdered. And guess who is the first suspect? That’s right. Better yet: guess who is one of the investigating officers? If you guessed the target of Fox’s new investigation, give yourself a pat on the back.

So Fox has to investigate a detective without him knowing about it, while being investigated by that same detective — and to keep it from looking like payback. Which is a pretty cool setup for a novel, you’ve got to admit. Better yet, it’s Rankin behind the wheel, so you know he can (and does) deliver on the setup.

The bulk of the novel is about Fox doing his best to find the killer — for his sister’s sake (primarily) — and keep himself out of the cross-hairs of the investigators. This will lead him to some very not-regulation investigative techniques, some of which might remind people of the Rankin creation that Fox isn’t. The mystery itself and the way it’s told is classic-Rankin. Lots of twists, a couple of good turns, very satisfying throughout.

Meanwhile, we get a pretty good character study/introduction to this new character through this — and through a friendship he develops with another detective during this. I really enjoyed the novel, and Rankin gave his new character a serious challenge to start with, a very cleverly constructed mystery to untangle. Fox is a worthy entry into the world of Rebus and Rankin.

I’ll leave with this — if after 2007’s Exit Music I’d have been nervous about what was to come next, I’d have been relieved after 2009’s The Complaints. Now, I’m just eager to see the two detectives on the same page.

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4 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge