three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
56-Jan-Feb-2012
By: 
Ian Rankin
user_rating: 
0

A-ImpossibleDeadIn 2007, Inspector John Rebus retired his badge after one of the great runs in crime fiction--17 volumes in all. But Ian Rankin didn't stop writing. The Impossible Dead, featuring internal affairs investigator Malcolm Fox, is the second volume of the Complaints series.

The Story: When people start dying in the vicinity of crooked cop Paul Carter--one of the deceased is Carter's uncle, an ex-cop from the Fife Constabulary, who blew the whistle on his nephew in a sexual assault case--an internal investigation led by Inspector Malcolm Fox and the Complaints department dredges up decades-old political animosity, Scottish separatists, and murders-for-hire. Undaunted by the complex and increasingly violent case, Fox, whose own shabby personal life contrasts with his reputation as a focused and dedicated cop, fights bitter history and the code of silence threatening his team's success ("Part of the appeal of the Complaints had been its focus on rules broken rather than bones, on cops who crossed the line but were not violent men," Rankin writes of Fox's decision to join internal affairs. "Did that make him a coward?"). When Carter himself turns up dead, the game changes.
Reagan Arthur Books. 384 pp. $25.99. ISBN-13: 9780316039972.

Guardian (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"This is Rankin, so it's only to be expected that the plotting should be tight, the dialogue quick-fire, the crimes disturbingly believable, taking place as they do in a world that is so thoroughly and obviously our own, today. What the creator of Rebus also gives us in Fox--initially in the inspector's first outing, The Complaints, and again here--is another complex, driven policeman: difficult, largely miserable and lonely, but utterly real." Alison Flood

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"The plot gets tricky when it expands into a mystery-within-a-mystery, but it never becomes as infernally convoluted as some of Rankin's old Rebus mysteries. Always inspired when he's writing about social outcasts and professional rejects, Rankin does well by these pariah cops -- especially Fox, who's looking good for the long haul." Marilyn Stasio

Guardian (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"So doubters be damned: The Impossible Dead is taut, compulsive and hugely satisfying, with plenty to say about the limits of memory and the dangers of historical idealism. If this is where Rankin is now, I'm not sure I want him to be anywhere else." John O'Connell

Globe and Mail (Canada) 3 of 5 Stars
"The Inspector Rebus novels were made into a television series, and The Impossible Dead reads as though it would be a better series on TV than in print--the landscapes and cityscapes that Rankin glances at in prose would be evocative on the screen. ... But there is a trap in the natural affinity of crime novels for specific locations: If the author stops seeing his world afresh and depicting it in detail, the setting fades into the background, and the unique ability of crime fiction to uncover a web of fascinating connections is lost." Jane Smiley

Critical Summary

Even from the early days of the Rebus series (Hide and Seek, Tooth and Nail, The Black Book), Ian Rankin has always been one of those crime writers who just gets it, penning novel after novel that deftly balances plot, atmosphere, and character. In fact, a large part of the appeal of the Rebus series was the detective's evolving, flawed humanity and a sense on the reader's part that Rankin really cared for his character; Malcolm Fox seems to be following suit in that regard. Second acts aren't always popular with readers, but the Complaints series is another hit for Rankin (save, perhaps, the ending), not least for his keen sense of how the weight of history hangs on his plots. One suspects that Rankin knows his Faulkner: The past is never dead. It's not even past.