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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Complaints by Ian Rankin ($14.99) (c2009)

[I've arrived a little late to this party. "The Complaints" was written in 2009.]

R.I.P. John Rebus and know that you are missed. Scottish author Ian Rankin retired his long-serving homicide detective John Rebus (19 novels since 1987, plus a recent sneak return in "Standing in Another Man's Grave"). However, as he stated in interview material in the back of the paperback edition of "The Complaints," Rankin stumbled across interesting material about the Scottish police version of Internal Affairs, the police department that investigates other police officers for misconduct, and couldn't pass it up. At the time he wouldn't resurrect Rebus -- although he changed his mind a couple of years later, as noted above -- so he created a new series.

"The Complaints" is very well constructed. I loved the complexity of plot points, the layering of storylines, and the way Rankin assembled all the pieces at the end. BUT. But the story didn't start moving along until nearly the end of the book.

Malcolm Fox, a sincere detective in Edinburgh police department's Complaints and Conduct, aka The Dark Side, aka Complaints, is the focal point of the book. He is rather plodding, although there are intermittent flashes of dry wit and a couple of notes of life's song humming about him. For the most part he is his job and his job is what he is.

A few other detectives in Complaints fill some of the pages: Tony Kaye is Fox's friend, Bob McEwan is his boss. After sealing and delivering evidence of inappropriate dealings by Detective Glen Heaton, Fox is suddenly assigned to help Annie Inglis in cornering another detective in Heaton's division, this time for child pornography. Jamie Breck appears pleasant, competent, and charismatic, which belies the accusation Fox is asked to investigate. Inglis says perpetrators often appear charming.

Vince Faulkner, the no-good boyfriend of Fox's sister, Jude, is murdered after injuring Jude in a domestic altercation. Suddenly Fox is on the other side of the fence. He is being eyed for the position of chief suspect. Fox teeters precariously between keeping to his job investigating Breck and having a back door look into who offed Vince, hoping all the while that it wasn't his sister.

One of the biggest strengths of "The Complaints" is Rankin's stark and intelligent look into the economics of Scotland at the time. Banks were failing, housing developments were in trouble, and jobs were scarce. Rankin weaves it all together with the smaller threads of individual human frailty and venality.

While Fox is no Rebus -- and who among us Rankin readers can avoid the comparison -- he is steadfast and true. Jamie Becker is the charismatic light and steals the show whenever he appears. Whether he is guilty or not of the pornography charge, he ends up as the strangely matched, unofficial partner to Fox in unraveling their concurrent miseries.

How could I not root for Becker to be innocent? It is to Rankin's credit that there are no assumptions that can be made about any of the characters, including Fox, since this is the first in the Complaints series. It went down to the wire.

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