Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Complaints, by Ian Rankin

Photo: Hotels TV blog, Edinburgh

John Rebus may have retired to Exit Music (Orion, 2007), but his creator, Ian Rankin, definitely has not. On the contrary, he's embarked on a new series. The Complaints (Orion 2009) is a fun and readable police procedural set once again in Edinburgh.

In the world of spies, ex-Green Beret author Robert Doherty (aka Bob Mayer) raises the question in Bodyguard of Lies (Forge 2005). Who minds the minders?

As imagined by Ian Rankin tn the more mundane realm of law enforcement, this question takes other forms. Who polices the police? Or in The Complaints, this might be better framed as "Who complains about the Complaints?"

In Rankin's first Inspector Fox novel, the job of doing surveillance on a fellow officer falls to Investigator Malcolm Fox, who serves in the PSU, the Professional Standards Unit, a subset of the Complaints and Conduct office of the Lothian and Borders Police.

As the story opens, Fox and his colleagues, jocularly nicknamed the Rubber Heels or the Dark Side, have just completed a gruelling investigation into the unsavoury machinations of a crooked law enforcement officer. Foxy, as his fellows call him, is summoned to another department, CEOP, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection department, known to fellow cops as the Chop Shop.

Receiving his new assignment from Officer Annie Inglis, the middle aged and divorced Fox finds her far more attractive than the work he's expected to do. Inglis asks him to investigate Jamie Breck, an up-and-coming young officer who is, she tells him, involved in an online child porn site.

But Fox feels something is fishy. His view is confirmed when his sister's ruffian boyfriend turns up murdered -- and Jamie Fox is put in charge of the investigation. In his usual fashion, Rankin leads the reader on a merry chase, complete with the twists and turns of Fox's days in Edinburgh.

As Fox is forced into contact with suspect Jamie Breck, we follow his tame life as a dry alcoholic, then as his visits to his elderly father in a nursing home, and worries about his grieving sister, who drinks a bit. It's hard not to wonder, as Fox does, whether Jamie suspects he's being investigated.

After a series of nimble twists and turns, we wind up somewhere quite unexpected. True to form,  Rankin continues to cleverly derail reader expectations up to the very end.

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