In his second outing, Malcolm Fox has managed to find himself wrapped up in yet another mystery. While investigating a corrupt cop in Fife, Fox finds himself increasingly interested in a case that dates back 20 years. Embroiled in the unsolved murder of an ’80s political idealist, Fox gets distracted from his actual case and angers the wrong people. Concurrently dealing with his sister’s anger and his father’s failing health, Fox must find a way to work within his constraints as a Complaints officer and still satisfy his growing curiosity.
Rankin certainly has a different set of constraints to work in here. With Rebus, it was almost easy to see why he would go off the rails a bit. After all, Rebus had a sense of justice and usually came about the crimes in his other CID investigations. Fox, however, feels a bit too much like a bored man turned detective. Akin to Victorian mysteries, he simply has too much time on his hands. In The Complaints, Fox was trying to clear his sister’s name. But in The Impossible Dead, there is no real tie to the mystery other than satisfying his own curiosity. Fox does not even appear driven by that justice that drove Rebus to bring down everyone who committed a wrong. Fox is still a fresh character, and I am sure Rankin will get a better handle on Fox’s motivations within the next couple of novels.
The mystery itself was really interesting and had a lot of pieces that I never would have seen coming. In these small pieces, Rankin truly is a master. He is able to carefully weave a story around a central idea, tying everything together in the end, while keeping the killer a complete mystery. I honestly cannot say that I have solved very many of Rankin’s mysteries before Rebus (or Fox) solved them for me. That is what I really like about Rankin. A lot of authors give it away in the beginning or have so few twists and turns that it is a straight path to the killer. While you may get nigglings that you know who is behind the dead bodies, you are never fully sure until Rankin’s protagonist corners the killer with his theories. While I do love watching a detective come to their own conclusions, I love it even more if I am kept in the dark and experiencing it along with the detective.
One thing that I particularly love about Rankin is the complexity of his characters, and Fox is no exception. Rankin manages to weave an interesting mystery around the happenings in a family. When Fox’s father falls ill and his sister rejects him, you feel sorry that he does not have a stronger relationship with her. The complicated relationship between siblings (made even more complicated by Jude’s boyfriend’s death in The Complaints) is real and touching. While they do not make great strides towards a more friendly arrangement, they certainly try their best. Sure, you don’t go to Rankin expecting a familial drama, but he has continued to do a good job providing one within the confines of crime fiction. After all, who wants to read about a detective with no depth, no history, and no complications?