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No Complaints about The Complaints

September 6, 2011

The Complaints
Ian Rankin
Orion Books
400 Pages

Ian Rankin is most famous for his Inspector Rebus series. The Complaints centered on Malcolm Fox, a policeman who is a member of the Complaints department, an Internal Affairs bureau, investigating the ethical conduct of other members of the police force. They’re investigating their own colleagues. It puts them in a position of strange and uneasy politics. Malcolm’s fellow members of the Complaints form a close group, going down to the pub together of an evening, bickering companionably over the coffee fund… is it because they like each other, or because all of their other colleagues want to keep them at a distance?
I found the glimpse into the police force’s inner machinery fascinating.

In terms of plot and panic and suspense, this was a muted mystery, unfolding as Fox’s investigation intersects with his personal life. Just as he’s beginning to gather information about Detective Sergeant Breck (suspected of child pornography) Breck takes the lead on an investigation where Fox’s sister might be a suspect. Shifting patterns of information, betrayal, maybe even conspiracy.

Fox is in an even stranger position than usual, trying to be there for his sister, but get information about Breck without the other policeman’s knowledge. Fox himself seems like a muted character, blundering quietly along as the layers of information and conspiracy shift and form new pictures.

I liked the… ordinariness… of how this mystery worked. Reading the book after me, Dad was not nearly as pleased with it. I’m pretty sure I heard him muttering something along the lines of “What’s Scots Gaelic for ‘nebbishy?'” Comparison to Rebus is going to be inevitable. Fox is like Rebus’s flip side- a recovering alcoholic, closely bound to his family, resigned and blundering confused, rather than simmering with danger and dark anger. I could see Rankin having fun exploring the possibilities of police work as a puzzle, rather than a pitched battle, with Fox leading the way through the streets of Edinburgh.

Speaking of the streets of Edinburgh- while being a tourist of the Fringe and the Book festival certainly didn’t take me anywhere near the Fettes police station or the world of the Lothian and Borders Police Squad… there were a handful of streets and neighborhoods Rankin wrote about, that I could see for myself. And that just made reading The Complaints even more fun.
On our last day in Edinburgh, we actually drove to see the Fettes police station and take pictures.


the Lothian and Borders Police Station, or Fettes, where much of the action of The Complaints occurs.

Fettes, from across the street.

For every book I read in 2011, I’m donating $1 to the New York Public Library.

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