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Posted: September 19, 2021

The Complaints is a good one

Book Review

By Derryll White

Rankin, Ian (2009).  The Complaints.

So John Rebus has retired after 18 novels, and after a break from writing Ian Rankin has come back with another Edinburgh police novel.  But this one has a twist.

Malcolm Fox, his central character, works in the Complaints and Conduct Department.  Not only that, Fox heads the Professional Standards Unit, the Dark Side.  These are the guys who investigate other cops for possible trial, loss of job and pension, jail, etc.  Some feel Fox goes after his own kind, and despise him and his work.

I think Ian Rankin has another winner developing here.  Malcolm Fox is a smart character who plays by the rules, until the rules bend on him and then he throws the whole rule book away and becomes a great cop.  He has morals, has a strong family sensibility, and is a reformed alcoholic.  So he is a vulnerable character who has the strength of will to stand by what he believes is right.

As with his other works, Rankin gives Edinburgh and Scotland pride of place.  Both are strong characters here in their own right.  And, as Rankin does so well, he builds a strong set of supporting characters who act and seem real.  ‘The Complaints’ is a highly readable story and not plagued with blood and gore.  It’s more a game of ‘Go’ or chess.  It’s modern and, I believe, has a strong future as a series.  As one British fellow said when he looked and saw me reading it in a cafe in Portugal, ‘You’ve got a good one there!’

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Excerpts from the novel:

SOCIETY – “I don’t believe we have any control over the world,” Fox went on.  “My dad’s in a care home – he has almost no control over his daily life.  People just come and do things around him, making decisions for him – same as politicians and even our bosses do for us.  They’re the ones who run our lives.  Adverts tell us what to buy, government tells us how to live, technology tells us when we’ve done something wrong.”  In demonstration, Fox undid his seatbelt.  A warning light came on, accompanied by the ping-ping of an alarm.

JUST A REGULAR REPORTER – Next morning at 11 a.m., Fox had a meeting with Linda Dearborn.  There was no resemblance to her brother – she was petite and fizzing with energy, and her outfit would have had church ministers walking into lamp posts.  The miniskirt was pleated, the bare, tanned legs reaching all the way down to pale-brown cowboy boots.  Beneath her suede jacket she wore a blouse with the first four buttons undone, showing ample bronzed cleavage.  Just a hint of make-up, and straw-blonde shoulder-length hair.

EDINBURGH – “Traffic,” Fox explained.  “They need to get those road works at Potobello roundabout finished.  And someone’s taken it into their head that this would be a good time to start replacing mains, as if the trains weren’t causing enough chaos.  There’s a zebra crossing in the Grassmarket, seems to be taking them months to install it.  Tourists will be in town soon, and God knows what they’ll make of it all.  Bits of roof keep falling off buildings, according to the Evening News.  City’s a deathtrap, the whole of Scotland’s in meltdown, and for all I know the rest of the world’s about to follow….”

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.


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