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VINE VOICEon November 14, 2011
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.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon October 15, 2011
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.
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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.
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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.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon November 19, 2011
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.

Recommended. prisrob
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on September 11, 2013
Rankin develops Fox in this second book in the series. Though he is of a piece with Rebus -- a lone wolf who breaks rules as he enforces them --he's altogether Rebus's polar opposite; engaged in the lives of others, concerned for their feelings. But he's a dog with a bone when it comes to nailing his prey. Good read, well developed and interesting back story and a great set-up for the coming confrontation between Rankin's two Scottish cops.
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on January 26, 2013
OK... I miss Rebus...a lot. So getting beyond that is challenging. Heck, I went to The Ox my last time in Edinburgh. That said Malcolm Fox is an interesting character and one I enjoyed getting to know in this book. Some insightful observations about how many events of the '80s seem to have been forgotten. There a few plot threads I wished had been knotted a little tighter, as I got to the end and had a few questions. That said I enjoyed the book and look forward to more of Malcolm Fox.
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on January 12, 2013
I was a fan of the Inspector Rebus novels and automatically bought Mr. Rankin's "Doors Open". I was quite disappointed with it and had some reservations about further Rankin books. However, the Malcom Fox Complaints books have redeemed Mr. Rankin in my eyes. "The Impossible Dead" is a layered thriller in fine Rankin tradition. Malcom Fox could be Rebus' doppleganger, albeit a dry one, complete with mistakes, missteps and mishaps. A very good read.
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on May 12, 2013
One of my many quirks is, once I start a fiction or nonfiction book, I always finish it even if I don't care for the thing. And, trust me, I've read some horrible, horrible works. Mr. Rankin's "The Impossible Dead" is on the other end of the scale. Whenever I had to stop reading it, I kept aching to return to his second Malcolm Fox book. If you are not familiar with the author's protagonist, Malcolm Fox is a cash-strapped, divorced, out-of-shape, alcoholic on the wagon, who has a dad with the early stages of dementia living in a health care facility and a sister that sure in the heck isn't going to be winning the "Sibling of the Year" award. He works in "The Complaints;" our American version of Internal Investigations of police officers. Needless to say, Fox and his two partners, the rookie Joe Naysmith and the sarcastic jaded Tony Kaye, are not the most popular people in any police station.

The three of them are sent to investigate a high-profile case out of their jurisdiction. Practically everybody is giving them a hard time and stonewalling. During this very difficult assignment, Fox stumbles upon a unsolved 1985 case involving the leader of a radical political group. The deeper Fox digs into the old case, based simply on the original findings not sitting well with him, the more complex and intriguing the story becomes.

Mr. Rankin moves the story along at a nice pace and all the major characters seem like very unique believable individuals. I especially enjoyed Tony Kaye's flippant wisecracks peppered throughout the novel. The author also adds many nice, little descriptive touches that make the scenes all too real. Mr. Rankin must be a keen observer of the world around him. I have not read the author's famous Inspector Rebus series, but a writer this good can sure bet on me reading them in the future.
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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 [...]
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