102 of 107 people found the following review helpful
While many mystery writers have tried, few succeed in creating a second series. James Lee Burke's Billy Bob Holland is merely a westernized version of Dave Robicheaux and Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone is Spenser in a different guise. Ian Rankin, the master of Scottish noir, delivers. With John Rebus retired in EXIT MUSIC, one of the best books in the entire Rebus series, what would he do for an encore?
Enter Malcolm Fox. Fox is exactly the type of policeman Rebus would loath. He is member of the Professional Standards Units, formerly Complaints and Conduct, police officers who investigate other police officers. He does not drink (though an argument can be said that single malt might be more salubrious to one's health than a steady diet of Irn-Bru.) He suffers from a crisis of confidence in his work, even being tormented by his ailing father of not being a real detective doing real police work.
In the second book to feature Malcolm Fox, THE IMPOSSIBLE DEAD, Rankin once again weaves a plot with many threads. Called in by Fife Constabulary to investigate the colleagues of disgraced detective Paul Carter, Fox and two other members of the Lothian and Borders Professional Standards Unit, Sergeant Tony Kaye and Constable Joe Naysmith, meet with the predicted closing of the ranks. During the course of the investigation Fox interviews the original complainant, Paul's uncle and retired policeman, Alan Carter. Alan now owns a security company and has also been retained to investigate a 25-year old cold case.
When Alan is murdered with Paul fit-to-order, Fox picks up the quest. Why was the death of lawyers and Scottish separatist firebrand Francis Vernal ruled a suicide and not properly investigated? Rankin now weaves his plot. There is the passion of homegrown separatist of the mid-1980s, a gaggle of groups, including those who used terror tactics to attempt to achieve their cause. Dark Harvest Commando actually used anthrax "mined" from Gruinald Island--the island itself the site of British experiments in biological warfare during World War II. The island became uninhabitable.
Fox continues to pull on the threads, uncovering a conspiracy of silence. Involvement of MI-5, police corruption that results in gun running and destruction of evidence, stonewalling by the powers that be, favors called in at the New Club--an exclusive men's club whose membership include the powerful and rich. In the midst of his investigation Fox also deals with family issues. His father lives in a retirement home, his dementia becoming more pervasive. His sister, unemployed and always distraught, brings more tension into the family struggles. While poring over a box of old family photos with his father, Fox discovers a cousin, Chris Fox, who was a member of the separatist movement and who died in an unexplained motorbike accident. Fox and his team succeed in solving a crime that no one wants solved, ultimately and ironically achieving justice.
The dialogue is sparkling. Perhaps it is the trio rather than the duo of Rebus and Siobhan in the earlier books that make the language so real.
As always there are enough topical events to not only anchor the book in time, but give it a strong sense of place: the fear of new terrorist attacks, the outrage at the release of Lockerbie bomber and mastermind Megrabi, and the much delayed launch of a new tram system in Edinburgh.
THE IMPOSSIBLE DEAD is a strong effort by one of the true masters of the mystery genre. Malcolm Fox deserves to be judged and read as his own man.
44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
I didn't think that Ian Rankin would ever be able to create another character who could compete with Rebus. I was wrong.
The first book in his new series, The Complaints, was good but this second one is even better. As members of the Professional Standards team, Inspector Malcolm Fox and his team are in Fife, looking into possible misconduct in the force there. When an ex-copper is found dead, Fox becomes aware that he had been looking into an old case - the death of a political activist which at the time had been classed as a suicide. Now Fox and his team have two cases on their hands.
One of the things I like most about Rankin is the way he sets his books firmly in the real world. With references to actual events and people, his plots become entirely convincing. He tells modern Scotland like it is - neither all good nor all bad. The short period in the eighties when Scottish nationalism turned briefly into terrorism is used for the main strand of the book. Rankin shows the contrast of those days, when fervent nationalists felt the democratic process held no hope for them, to the Scotland of today, with its devolved government, more confident and comfortable in its skin, with nationalism a question to be debated rather than won by force.
Malcolm Fox is turning into just as interesting a character as Rebus, if less of a maverick. Working in the Complaints, he has to face the obstruction and sometimes contempt of fellow officers, but he believes in what he's doing and wants to do it well. This time though a comment of his father makes him wonder if he has what it takes to investigate a real crime and that doubt acts as a spur to him to step outside his normal boundaries. In this book we also get to know more about his colleagues, Kaye and Naysmith. The interactions between them come over as convincing and enjoyable - three team players working well together. Fox's relationships with his father and sister are further developed and this glimpse into his life outside work makes him into a more rounded and believable character.
I'm delighted to hear that Rankin may bring Rebus back to us but I sincerely hope that Malcolm Fox is here for a long run too. Highly recommended.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2012
I gave The Complaints only 3 stars because I felt there was too much going on and found it confusing and complicated, yet I did enjoy it. I'm giving The Impossible Dead 4 stars because not only did I enjoy it but I thought the story, characters, and resolution were all sharply drawn and well interconnected. It does start out a little slow but soon reaches page-turner pace. Although we miss Rebus, let's give Malcolm a chance. He proved himself quite able in this one.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2012
I enjoyed the Rebus books. However, "The Complaints," left me really amazed at Rankin's willingness and ability to create something new. This astonishment has continued into this work, which is equally as good -- if not better -- than the first featuring Malcolm Fox. This work unfolds slowly, but picks up pace in a believable manner with characters are are all too real. (As an aside, I enjoy the fact that Fox isn't a heavy drinker; contrary to Rebus, who drank in many of the scenes from his books at an alarming rate).
The story here is well told and timely considering Scottish affairs. My favorite scene, without giving too much away, is when a once-committed Scottish nationalist comes all to close to a 16-year old teenager in the "new" Scotland. It is a perfect political statement that appears briefly in a really well-written mystery.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Ian Rankin is a master of character-based crime fiction, and his skills are prodigious in his latest Malcolm Fox novel titled, The Impossible Dead. Fox is a police detective outsider, assigned to the professional standards unit or internal affairs, called by most, the Complaints. Sent to the Fife Constabulary on a case, he ends up investigating murder, while being drawn back home to visit his ill father and repair his relationship with his sister. Fox is a complex individual that Rankin creates in ways that make him familiar, fully human, and prompts readers to care for what happens to him. Rankin provides realistic dialogue, a captivating plot, and deep character development that will appeal to all readers who like those elements in well-written fiction.
Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended)
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2012
The second in Ian Rankin's series built around Detective Inspector Malcolm Fox, who works for the Scottish Police equivalent of Internal Affairs, known less-than-fondly as "The Complaints."
DI Malcolm Fox and his team from Professional Ethics and Standards find themselves in the coastal town of Kirkaldy, investigating some of their own. Days earlier DC Paul Carter had been found guilty of demanding sexual favours from several women in return for turning a blind eye to their activities. What made the case unusual is that the complaint had been lodged by the copper's uncle, a retired officer himself. In the wake of Carter's conviction several fellow officers now find themselves suspected of helping to mount a cover-up, and Fox and his team get the predictable cold shoulder and run-around from everyone at the station.
Not long after Fox speaks with the uncle he is found shot. The locals chalk it up to suicide, but Fox isn't buying it. The man had been working on a cold case dating from 1985, in which a lawyer had died in a car crash on a lonely rural road. Also allegedly a suicide, the man had a bullet hole in his head. Too many coincidences for Fox. His investigation will take him back to a different era, in which paramilitary groups were plotting for Scottish independence, and carry forward to the present, when the same militants have moved on and established other, more respectable lives.
The Impossible Dead is like a Chinese puzzle in 3D, intricate and layered and as good as it gets. As Fox works his way through a labyrinth of lies and deceptions he teases out the subtle relation between a gun that should not exist and a young woman who was never alive. Once again Ian Rankin demonstrates how a tale built around nuanced characters and a finely-paced plot can hold it's own against thrillers based on nonstop, mindless violence any day. Rankin's many fans who lamented the retirement of his earlier protagonist, John Rebus, will warm to Malcolm Fox, an altogether warmer, but no less resolute, figure.
--Jim Napier, Professional crime fiction reviewer and creator of the award-winning website [...]
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 2011
I must admit that I didn't like Ian Rankin's first offering in his new series about Malcolm Fox and The Complaints. That book was too stuffy with little excitement. In this second book in the series Rankin gets off to a very slow start, and I was ready to pitch the book after reading 60 some pages. But then Rankin picked up the pace. In retrospect the pace increased in speed and intensity because Fox was doing what Rebus almost always did. He wasn't following procedures. He was acting like a detective and not like a cop whose remit was to focus on complaints against the police. Perhaps the story line is a bit worn, that is, those who protested against the system/institution 20-25 years ago now have power because they are part of the system. Yet Rankin gives a Scottish twist to the story line and adds excitment through Fox's dogged pursuit of cold-case facts and tidying up of loose-ends.
I would highly recommend this book to fans of police procedurals. It is a pleasure to realize that John Rebus is back in the person of Malcolm Fox.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
"The Impossible Dead" is a solid, beefy mystery with Scottish atmosphere and slow-burn tension in ample supply. Ian Rankin makes writing these stories together look so easy--he's such a genuine, non-flashy storyteller--but the effect is like some kind of trick. You are up and running alongside Matthew Fox and have as much desire as he does to figure out what the hell is going on. Rankin trusts his readers, holds nothing back.
And you care about the very sticky situation Matthew Fox finds himself in--a cop investigating other cops--and how others view him. Matthew Fox works with a group of officers known as "The Complaints," Internal Affairs.
"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. Did that make him a coward? He didn't think so. Less of a copper? Again, no."
The Impossible Dead starts small and then the layers start peeling back. The ticklish-dicey-sticky relationship between an Internal Affairs a cop and other cops lives on almost every page, even as Fox's pals in The Complaints caution Fox as he expands the initial investigation and starts to follow all the questions that come his way, not just the ones he's been assigned to answer.
And Fox knows he might not be in The Complaints forever--and must respect that fact. Fox's task is make sure regular cops aren't cutting corners because "in a year or two he would be back in CID himself, rubbing shoulders with those he had scrutinised; trying to put drug dealers behind bars without bending the rules, fearful of The Complaints and coming to despise them."
It's complicated. Fox's life is complicated. The case is--a touch--complicated (I'd say it's just about right, but you have to pay attention). The investigation does not lead in a straight line. It's messy. There's a murder that has its roots in 1985 and a very different era in Scottish history, when ardent separatists used terrorism as a tactic. Of course, it's been a long time since then and people have changed. Really changed.
Minor quibbles--too much time spent eating and drinking (but bet that's fairly authentic) and the middle here felt a bit long. But the ending of "The Impossible Dead" stays within itself and packs the proverbial wallop because of that very fact. The plot still has its feet very much on the ground and the final face-off is suspenseful and satisfying.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Ian Rankin is my favorite Scottish author, I loved his Inspector Rebus, and am coming to like his Inspector Malcolm Fox. Like Rebus, Malcolm Fox is a loner, not really happy in this job, but he loves police work. Working for the 'Complaints' is a job looking into the lives of his colleagues and their misdeeds. No one likes them, can't say I blame them, but as Malcolm says, " Someone's got to do it."
Inspector Malcolm Fox's latest investigation is a doozy. He and his two fellow officers are in the Scottish town of Kirkcaldy, about an hour out of Edinburgh. Here they are to look into a detective who has sexually assaulted several women. Of course, the small police force resents this intrusion, and do their best to cover up for the office, Paul Carter. Finding no help within the police building, they go outside and talk to everyone and anyone who might have known Paul and/or his family. Malcolm ends up talking to Paul's uncle, Alan a gruff old gent, but seems he is full of honesty and knows his stuff. He is the one who made the original complaint against Paul. Alan is an ex-officer. The team also talks to a woman who was assaulted, and instead of help, she becomes riled up and tires to slit her wrists. Nothing, it seems, is going right for this team. Alan Carter is found dead, suggestive of a suicide, but it is very suspicious. The investigation proceeds, and this is where some of the really interesting plot falls apart for me. The terrorism that plagues us today had its origins many years ago, and some of that is brought into this novel. The team apparently feels the same, and so does Malcolm's boss. They all want him to stop, no need to go further. But Malcolm is a perfectionist, and he must find the truth.
We are privy to some of Malcolm's personal issues in this novel. His father is ill, his angry, unemployed sister helps to care for him, and Malcolm must spend time getting to know both of them in a better light. Malcolm Fox is growing on me. This is the second novel of Ian Rankins about the Complaints. This department is OK, but I am becoming weary of the hostility that accompanies each story set. His reputation is growing, so soon, I hope, a station will welcome him, and we can move on.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 9, 2014
I've enjoyed Rankin's Rebus character in a number of novels, and this is my first with Malcolm Fox, head of the Complaints (similar to IAD) in the starring role. It's a promising series, but definitely not the same as Rebus.
As with many good mysteries, The Impossible Dead starts out in one direction, a fairly easy role for the Complaints team to investigate a nearby department's improper handling of a citizen accusation against one of their own, and branches off into something considerably more complex. Without spoiling the plot, I'd say the story line is well done, I like Rankin's straightforward prose, the characters are developed nicely, and the conclusion is satisfying. It's a good mystery novel. Oh yeah, I also like the references to the Scottish setting... I've been over there and enjoy hearing descriptions of places I've actually seen.
The only 'complaints' I have were the relatively slow pace of the initial 2/3 of the book. There was a lot of activity, but little obvious movement toward the conclusion. The pace picked up eventually. Additionally, although we get a very good sense of the personalities of the members of the Complaints team, it's actually a pretty boring group. They get along well, joke with one another, chase skirts a bit, but there's not the little bit of tension that goes along with a more adventurous team.
All in all, a nicely done mystery by an author who does a great job cranking them out.