Tag Archives: Malcolm Fox

Review of The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin


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.

Review of The Complaints by Ian Rankin


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.

thecomplaintsNobody 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…