Review of The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin

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This is the second outing of Malcolm Fox of The Complaints – the very unpopular Police Force internal affairs department. So – having ousted his famous and far more charismatic policeman, Inspector Rebus – does Rankin manage to establish Malcolm Fox in our affections as a suitable replacement?

Malcolm Fox is back… Fox and his team are investigating whether follow cops covered up for Detective Paul Carter. Carter has been found guilty of misconduct with his own uncle – also in the Force – proving to be his nemesis. But what should be a simple job is soon complicated by a brutal murder and a weapon that should not even exist.

A trail of revelations leads Fox back to 1985, a year of desperate unrest when letter-bombs and poisonous spores were sent to government offices, and kidnappings and murders were plotted. But while the body count rises the clock starts ticking, and a dramatic turn of events sees Fox in mortal danger.

Fox’s superiors are keen to see the investigation into Carter’s misdemeanours wrapped up, but Fox is a thorough, scrupulous impossibledeadcharacter who is driven to dot the i’s and cross the t’s… And it is trait that leads him away from the initial investigation into the thicket of Rankin’s plotting that plunges us into a torrid time in Scottish history – the mid 1980’s. On the face of it, Malcolm Fox should be too boring to be an effective protagonist. He doesn’t appear to have any huge character flaws, doesn’t drink and isn’t particularly moody or unreasonable as a boss… His Achilles heel is his sense of inadequacy as a police officer and a desire to – maybe – prove to the officers in charge of the increasingly long trail of murders that he is every bit as good as they are. Maybe, even, a bit ahead of them… He doesn’t even have the grace to have any kind of love life – and although he has a stroppy sister and an increasingly frail father, his relationship with both of them is a completely normal mixture of love and resentment. And that is his strength – Malcolm Fox is recognisable as the chap next door and as such, a protagonist we want to see prevail.  As in all the best long-running series, we also follow the fortunes of the cast of supporting characters – in this case, Tony Kaye and Joe Naysmith. The moments of light relief come from the relationship between them and once more, Rankin gives us subtle, nuanced characters who are believably complex and three-dimensional.

What Rankin also offers in this book is a real cracker of a plot. From an apparently straightforward investigation into a dodgy copper, the tale spirals off into a labyrinthine tangle that had me second-guessing who would be the next victim and/or perpetrator – until I just ran with Rankin’s master storytelling and enjoyed the ride. Which leads to an unexpected denouement and exciting climax. By the time I was two-thirds through the book, there was no way I was going anywhere until I’d discovered who had done what to whom…

Exactly what you want from police procedural thriller, really. So – in answer to the original question – yes. Malcolm Fox is a fitting replacement to the fiery Rebus – in fact I think I vastly prefer him. But, don’t take my word for it – if you haven’t already had the pleasure, give yourself a treat and a break from the appalling summer weather and curl up on the sofa with The Impossible Dead – you’ll thank me if you do.
10/10

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