IN this second novel by Ian Rankin, the protagonist is Malcolm Fox who works as a cop with The Complaints and Conduct Department. He seems a suitable successor to John Rebus who has just retired and who could never see eye to eye with Malcolm Fox. Having little in common with John Rebus except for integrity and dogged determination to get at the root of the crime, Inspector Malcolm Fox is a teetotaller in a hard-drinking world, wears fashionable braces without embarrassment because they hold up his trousers and who is described as ‘a bear of a man’ with slow and steady gait, but a man to be feared.
This searing crime fiction begins with Malcolm Fox visiting his father Mitch at the care department. He has injured his back at the factory, where he worked and remained disabled for years. Subsequently cancer came along and he got treated successfully, if painfully. When his wife died and he got the all-clear, old age crept in. His son’s, that is, Malcolm Fox’s marriage breaks up after less than a year; his “daughter flew far from the nest and kept in touch infrequently, until landing back home with an unlikeable partner in tow”.
Malcolm’s sister Jude gets beaten often by her husband and so the brother in exasperation tells her, “You still haven’t got rid of that bastard of yours.” Malcolm knows that his sister persists in an obsessive relationship – something about which he cannot seem to do anything because how can he help a woman who lies to defend her attacker and because she claims to love him. Then one day, Jude’s husband is found murdered. The reluctant Malcolm Fox is given a new task. There’s a cop called Jamie Breck and he is dirty, but as Fox takes on the job, he learns there is more to Breck than anyone thinks. His knowledge proves dangerous as Fox soon realises, especially with the vicious murder of his brother-in-law occurring far too close home for his liking.
Fox works with honesty and persistence and becomes a pariah to his colleagues. For 11 years in the CID, when Glen Heaton has been breaking the rules to his advantage, Fox and his team collect sufficient evidence against him. With Heaton exposed, Fox is given an additional task. A cop, Jamie Breck, is suspected of being one of a gang of paedophiles. Fox strikes a friendship with Breck to obtain information. Initially the two are suspicious of each other, but gradually a friendship develops that become really thick. However, all kinds of doubts assail Fox’s mind because he is unable to believe that Breck is a paedophile. But if he is not, then why is Fox given the task of exploring? Is it a deliberate attempt to befool him? Are both of them being used against each other? If so, then by whom and why?
The plot thickens and the case becomes particularly intriguing with the murder of Fox’s brother-in-law and in which Fox’s sister is being questioned as a suspect. The story takes us through the sinister world of the city of Edinburgh which is the haunt of the rich and powerful, the pubs, the officers, the hotels, the eateries, the shopping arcade and the food eaten.
Rankin as the crime novelist of reality shows through this novel that the poor and the vulnerable suffer the most, while the powerful, who have exploited and accumulated huge profits, now face a financial disaster and employ the services of even a psychopathic killer to ensure that their interests are protected.
This is a captivating novel about a murder, though it is more about morality and ethics in which Fox is asked to investigate fellow officer, James Breck. At The Complaints, the police give excuses to the ones who investigate against other policemen and so no one likes them. The novel is about relationships, trust and respect. The protagonist of the novel appears like a hero who emerges from many dilemmas that are thrown at him before he emerges as the winner.
(Hachette, c/o Orion Books, Orion House, 5 Upper St. Martin’s Lane, London WC2H 9EA.)