The Complaints by Ian Rankin

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The Complaints by Ian Rankin

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Category: Crime
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Rankin returns to his natural home - the police procedural - with a stand-alone (dare we hope that it's the start of a series?) about those who investigate their fellow officers. Superb plot. Compelling characters. Simply brilliant.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: September 2009
Publisher: Orion Books
ISBN: 978-0752889511

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Working in 'The Complaints' is not the job for you if personal popularity matters, because they're the cops who investigate other cops. Inspector Malcolm Fox has been there for some time and at the beginning of the book the Procurator Fiscal is taking on a case against a serving policeman. Most people think that Glen Heaton is a good copper who has taken a few shortcuts and done some unorthodox swaps of information just to get the right result when justice might not be served otherwise. They don't reckon that he's bent and there's a degree of resentment against Fox.

That's really the least of Fox's problems though. His increasingly frail and elderly father is in a care home and his sister is in an abusive relationship. Despite all Fox's best endeavours he's unable to do anything about the situation. At work there's a hint that there might be an investigation to be done in Aberdeen, but in the meantime something very nasty has come to light. A cop called Jamie Breck seems to be into paedophilia – he's certainly paid an enrolment fee to a suspect site by credit card - but there's not enough yet to trap him. It's now down to Fox.

Rebus was never going to be an easy act to follow and there's been a two year hiatus between Exit Music and this first major stand-alone since Rebus retired. Doors Open did something to fill the gap, but that was a reworking of a story published as a serial in New Yorker Magazine and a departure from the police procedural which is Rankin's natural home. There was more than a little trepidation when I started reading The Complaints – would it be a let-down after the superb Rebus novels?

By the time that I was a quarter of the way through all the doubts had gone. By half way through – if I even stopped to think – my only quibble would be whether this is as good as Rebus at his best (The Falls, Fleshmarket Close and The Naming of the Dead are my choices) or whether it's the best he's ever written. It's a close call but I think it's the best.

The writing is superb with not a word wasted. There's little in the way of description of people; Fox is a bear of a man, but I have a complete picture of him in my own mind. I wish I could work out how Rankin does this – other writers bore with their descriptions but still produce a picture which fails to capture what's important. It's not just people either – Edinburgh (the good, the bad and the tram system) springs to life in his hands and you'll be there. Take some decent footwear though – this is February and there's snow on the ground.

The plot is excellent – an inquiry into personal morality, private vice, friendship and the state of the nation – it says on the press release. I'd say it's about trust – the trust we place (or occasionally misplace) in those in authority, in those we work with and in our friends. It's about what we expect them to do on our behalf and about how we close our eyes about what they actually do. It is about the state of the nation – it's about how the country was at that specific time, but equally, it's timeless. It's a book that will never date – and it's highly recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

It's not just Rebus that's a tough act to follow – Rankin is too. If you're looking for something comparable to read in terms of plot and writing then it would have to be Christine Falls by Benjamin Black.

Booklists.jpg The Complaints by Ian Rankin is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2009.

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