The complaints

On the looong flight to Salt Lake City, I started reading this latest novel of Ian Rankin called The Complaints. This was my first Rankin’s novel since the end of the Rebus books I enjoyed very much and I am not disappointed with the result, even though I was expecting a wee more novelty in the setting, the characters and the plot! Indeed, the book is again about police work in Edinburgh, with an individualistic cop facing both suspension and major family troubles, along with an underlying sense of loss of purpose in life and a fight against alcohol… When reading the book, it feels like Rankin first attempted to distance himself from those Rebus characteristics, for instance trying to depict the main character as a team member, but that he eventually fall back on those characteristics as just too convenient to unravel the complicated plot. Although it may feel paradoxical, the differences between Rebus and Fox are simply stressing the deeper similarities between the two characters. For instance, Fox is a teetotaller but he spends just as much time as Rebus in the pubs and is so sensitive to the smell of single malt that it may stop him discussing with colleagues. Similarly, his attention to his family (father and sister) cover feelings that are very close to Rebus’, namely a fundamental inability to deal with affection, long term relationships and involvement. Fox materially looks after his father’s retirement home, but he looks at his watch as soon as he arrives. He worries about his sister’s sleazy partner, but put off acting when he knows he is hitting her (with consequences that impact the whole book). Just like Rebus, he spends his nights roaming his empty apartment, bored with TV and DVDs, half-heartedly sorting his books before wondering if he should get rid of them. His culinary habits resemble Rebus’ as well, with food forgotten in the fridge and a frightening diet mostly based on junk food. When Fox starts getting out with a fellow detective, work consideration gets in the way and ruins it all.

The plot itself is rather intricate and unravels in a slightly unsatisfactory manner, since all threads end up being linked together in a very small world. In particular the capture of the gangster at the centre of the story does not feel realistic at all, as he shows too much trust into policemen, and the overall feeling of general corruption within the force reduces the strength of the novel in that it blunts the appeal of uncovering the bad guys. I do not know whether or not Rankin intends to continue writing about Fox, as the way the character cut all his bridges by the end of the book does make for an easy sequel. The style of the book is quite similar to the earlier Rankins, with a majority of dialogues and depictions of current day Edinburgh that involves well-known place like The Kitchin restaurant. It makes the setting much more realistic, of course, but I somehow dislike this feature that sounds like covert advertising. Overall, the book stands its ground and makes for a good afternoon read (whether or not you are stuck in a plane!), especially for Rebus’ fans.

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