Those of you who were dismayed when Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series came to an end in Exit Music will have cause to rejoice when you pick up this offering. The Complaints sees Rankin at his very best.
Nobody likes The Complaints – they’re the cops who investigate other cops. Complaints and Conduct Department, to give them their full title, but known colloquially as ‘The Dark Side’, or simply ‘The Complaints’. It’s where Malcolm Fox works. He’s just had a result, and should be feeling good about himself. But he’s a man with problems of his own. He has an increasingly frail father in a care home and a sister who persists in an abusive relationship – something which Malcolm cannot seem to do anything about.
But, in the midst of an aggressive Edinburgh winter, the reluctant Fox is given a new task. There’s a cop called Jamie Breck, and he’s dirty. The problem is, no one can prove it. But as Fox takes on the job, he learns that there’s more to Breck than anyone thinks. This knowledge will prove dangerous, especially when a vicious murder intervenes far too close to home for Fox’s liking.
And so starts an adventure that takes Fox way beyond his comfort zone – where he finds himself being constantly tested as the storyline continues to ramp up the tension. It is important that the reader cares about Fox, as he is right at the heart of this novel – and for my money, Fox is a lot more likeable than Rebus. Divorced and a recovering alcoholic, Fox struggles to stay on the side of the good guys – which is why he works hard to weed out dirty cops who become far too friendly with the criminals they are chasing – or bend too many rules to get a conviction. However, he also manages not to come across as a prig – largely helped by his troubled relationships with his father and sister and the laconic banter that threads through the book, providing a few smiles and light relief from the grim backdrop of the unfolding banking crisis and a Scottish winter.
Rankin’s unfussy style manages to weave a story packed with plot twists corkscrewing off in all directions, set in the seedier side of Edinburgh, which is described in cinematically sharp detail without holding up the pace or defusing the tension. Rankin is the master of Scottish noir and while there are others who come close – like Christopher Brookmyre for instance – no one does it better. Certainly when Rankin is at his storming best, as in The Complaints. Roll over Rebus – here comes Foxy…