We gave it an A-
The world is full of tough, thankless jobs, like trash collector or slaughterhouse processor or U.S. congressman. Working as an internal-affairs cop might not be quite that nightmarish, but as portrayed in Ian Rankin’s expertly crafted new police procedural, The Impossible Dead, it’s a pretty brutal business. Inspector Malcolm Fox, who toils for Edinburgh’s Complaints and Conduct department, endures endless hostility from his peers on the force, who openly doubt his loyalty and ability. Even Fox finds himself questioning what he does. Is he one of ”the Complaints,” as they’re known, because he can’t really cut it as a proper detective?
But while policing other cops might be an arduous career path, that outsiders-in-their-own-world setup makes for a gripping twist on the genre. The Impossible Dead is Rankin’s second book about Fox and his Complaints cohorts (the Scottish author ended his long-running and much-loved Inspector Rebus series in 2007), and it’s riveting stuff. The story begins simply, with Fox heading to nearby Kirkcaldy to investigate whether local cops lied to protect a corrupt colleague. But the case soon escalates into a knotty tale of murder and old secrets, set against the backdrop of radical Scottish separatists in the ’80s.
Dead is not a thriller; it’s the kind of slowly unfolding mystery where much of the action involves policemen wandering around talking to people, trying to unravel riddles with just a notepad and a few expert questions. The running and shooting, when it ultimately comes, is the least exciting part.
Rankin wrote 17 Rebus novels over the course of 20 years, and it’s unclear if the Complaints characters can sustain that kind of run. But for now, Fox and friends are compelling enough to preserve Rankin’s rep as one of the great spinners of brainy crime fiction. A-