Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Complaints

When Cathy Pfister asked if I knew about Ian Rankin, I sighed inwardly because as Regular Readers know, I got off that bandwagon a while ago.  But then she said that she had The Complaints and that she'd liked it, and it is true that I'd "heard" positive reports (I can't pinpoint the sources, hence the "").  So, I received a bag with not one but three of this new-ish series from the popular Scottish author of the noir-ish John Rebus series.

Our Hero is one Malcolm Fox, awkwardly called Foxy by colleagues, a not-burnt-out-but-maybe-a-little-singed-by-life Inspector with the Complaints and Conduct bureau of the Scottish police in Edinburgh.  What we in American cop shows would call IAB, or Internal Affairs Bureau - you know, the cops who investigate the cops.  In this extremely convoluted story, Fox has just finished a successful investigation into a bad guy at another precinct, when he's asked to investigate a young colleague at that same station.  At the same time, his sister's good-for-nothing husband goes and gets himself killed, and suspicion starts to fall on Fox, even though the lead investigator is working with Jamie Breck, the fellow Fox is investigating.  (See what I mean?)  This is all set against a backdrop of failing construction projects and previously high-flying real-estate magnates which are all victims of the banking crisis and world-wide recession of 2009.  Fox and Breck manage to step on enough toes to get themselves both thrown off the murder case, but apparently gluttons for punishment keep working away at it, injuring themselves and further threatening their careers in the process. 

Malcolm Fox is described on the first page "slow and steady, and only occasionally to be feared" (3) which sums up this book.  It plods along, although the plot is complicated enough to keep you sort of engaged, but even the occasional bout of thuggery is barely enough to keep me from putting the book down.  Had I known how much I'd enjoy the latest Philip Kerr (next up!), I'd have dropped this.  It's not a bad book - it is unobtrusively well-written, and Fox is not nearly so profoundly unhappy as Rebus.  But I can't summon up any more exciting verbiage about it other than to fall back on cliche and say that it just didn't light a fire.    

BUT.  The "Reading Group Guide" at the end (what reading group would pick this?  they'd die of boredom ten minutes into their discussion about it) did provide a spectacular save for this novel, and made me glad I'd stuck it out.  Rankin offers his list of Ten Literary Crime Novels, with a solid paragraph about each one.  The list is quite eclectic:

1.  The Private Memoirs and Confessions of  Justified Sinner, James Hogg, 1824
2.  Bleak House, Charles Dickens, 1853
3.  Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1866
4.  Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson, 1886
5.  Brighton Rock, Graham Greene, 1938
6.  The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler, 1939
7.  Roseanna, Maj. Sowall and Per Wahloo, 1965
8.  The Driver's Seat, Muriel Spark, 1970
9.  The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco, 1980
10.  Live Flesh, Ruth Rendell, 1986

I've only heard of about half of these (probably the same ones you have), and read even fewer.  Would you consider Jekyll and Hyde to be crime fiction?  Apparently Stevenson was influenced by a crime boss in London and Rankin says he likes to think about the idea of good people doing bad things - so okay, that is one of the fundamental threads in any crime novel.  There are about a billion top-ten lists of crime fiction out there, but they are usually written by critics or "experts" or really anyone who has a list - you don't see them from authors themselves that much.  Most contain a Raymond Chandler and Graham Greene shows up occasionally, along with The 39 Steps.  Can't say that I've ever seen Dickens or Dostoyevsky, so I think it might be a treat to try and read my way through this one.  

The Guide also includes a list of Fox's favorite walks, and Breck's favorite restaurants, which, if I ever get to Edinburgh again, I'll be sure to look up.

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