Standing in Another Man’s Grave follows Ian Rankin’s now-retired DI Rebus, who has not given up his need to solve cases. Working as a civilian with other retired cops in the Cold Case Unit, Rebus meets a woman who claims her daughter was the first victim in a string of murders along Scotland’s A9 motorway. Rebus, ever a man who loves a damsel in distress, decides to look into the case. In so doing, he begins to uncover some interesting facts about the current disappearance of a young girl. He throws himself back in with Siobhan Clarke, and worms his way onto the active investigation. Wary of Rebus’s presence is another Rankin protagonist, Inspector Malcolm Fox of the Complaints. Fox cannot believe Rebus is a clean cop, and when Rebus thinks about signing on to active duty, Fox thinks it’s his duty to find all the dirt of Rebus and his strange relationship with mobster Big Ger.
When Standing in Another Man’s Grave was announced, I was excited about the prospect of Fox and Rebus going toe to toe. There are plenty of our favorite authors who have multiple beloved characters, and wouldn’t we all like to watch these characters meet? By the earlier released log line, I assumed this was a book from Fox, and that Rebus would be a minor figure. Paint me astonished, because upon reading it the book was much the other way around. The majority of the narrative follows Rebus on the case, and we only get a small glimpse into what Fox thinks of this rather old-fashioned cop. And that glimpse is rather scathing.
Rankin explains in the afterword that he had never really been done with Rebus, but the required retirement age in Scotland had painted him into a corner with Rebus’s employment. Because John Rebus would never become a private detective nor would he be able to find crimes to solve while not on active duty, Rebus was retired. But then Rankin heard about the Cold Case Unit employing retired cops, and even better, the age restriction being raised. Suddenly, Rebus could come back and back he came.
I was mostly happy with the return of Rebus. He got up to his old tricks, but painted against the backdrop of Siobhan’s career choices and Fox’s opinions, it was hard not to feel that Rebus was a bit out of place in modern crime solving. Which is what I think Rankin wanted to do, but, not giving anything away, the ending really cemented that maybe Rebus has gone too far to prove he is still relevant and can deliver results. Going forward with any new Rebus, it would be interesting to see if Rankin would tame him a bit, allow him to adjust to the newer way of doing things. Otherwise, the reality of Rebus staying in the force would seem a bit stretched, and Rankin has been fairly fastidious about being realistic.
As for the meeting of the minds, it was rather intriguing to see Fox set against the backdrop of Rebus. Having read both The Complaints and The Impossible Dead, Fox is a character I thought I knew quite well. When things are told from his side of the story, you automatically assume guilt on the part of the cops, and you know why Fox goes after them so hard. But when Fox comes after Rebus, and you know Rebus is innocent, it puts a whole new spin on the view of a narrator. After all, from Fox’s perspective, this is a retired cop interested in rejoining the ranks who still works for the police department, has biweekly nights out with former mobster Big Ger Cafferty, and by all accounts, saved Cafferty’s life. But we know that Rebus hates Cafferty and that his motives are pure, even if his methods aren’t. Standing in Another Man’s Grave brings these two protagonists against each other and says a lot more about the respective characters when the reader thought they knew enough already.
As a crime novel, I found Rankin’s newest offering to be mostly on par with his previous works. My only real complaint was the end of the book, and the issue was that Rebus was so strong-handed that I felt it cheapened and lessened the criminal’s confession. However, having another Rebus and seeing that there is still a lot more to his story makes my day, and I will continue to read any new offerings. (It gave me chills to see “Rebus is Back” right there on the cover.)
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?
This was a great choice for audiobook, if only because I was severely missing hearing the Scottish accent on a daily basis. Peter Forbes narrated, and did a fantastic job of infusing the various characters with different voices and personalities. I also appreciated that he narrated in an Edinburgh accent (not sure where he’s from exactly, couldn’t figure it out). While my ear isn’t very well trained, it would feel wrong to have Ian Rankin read by a Glaswegian, whose thicker accents are not heard in Edinburgh.
The Complaints introduces readers to Malcolm Fox, an Inspector in the Complaints department. For American readers, that would mean Internal Affairs, the cops who investigate other cops. Malcolm is perfect for the Complaints; he always follows the rules and does not care who he investigates if they are breaking the rules. The book begins with Malcolm having wrapped an investigation into a corrupt DI named Glen Heaton, and getting an assignment to investigate young DS Jamie Breck. Just after he begins his investigation, Malcom’s sister’s abusive partner turns up dead, and DS Breck is investigating the murder. Throw in the apparent suicide of a prominent property developer, and Malcolm is left reeling from everything that seems so connected.
Let’s talk about Malcolm Fox himself. I really liked him. He was an interesting departure from the normal Tartan Noir character. He had his moments, but for the most part was very likable. He could maintain relationships and got on with others without much problem. Well, perhaps not with those who were doing wrong, but Malcolm’s easy friendship with Breck was at the core of the conspiracy against both men. Malcolm holds a good relationship with his father and tries to heal the strained one with his sister (strained mostly because he could not stand to watch her abused by her partner). While he could sustain a romantic relationship, Malcolm seems well adjusted in many other ways. This is a severe difference from Rebus, and since Fox looks to be the center of a series, should show Rankin’s diversity as an author. In fact, I would say that with Malcolm comes a reinvention of crime fiction stereotypes, paving the way for other characters like him. He worked the entire case with Breck at his side, something most crime fiction detectives would never do.
At the center of The Complaints is the theme of family and what one would do for them. Malcolm abandons his rules and goes rogue in order to protect his sister. Even after he’s put on probation, Malcolm continues to go for the answers that would help his sister heal. Family is mentioned again and again, amongst several other characters. When most crime fiction novels focus on the loners in the world, this book brought the families to the forefront. I like the transition. Of course, some of these families were criminals, but that’s beside the point.
With more experience, you can tell that Rankin has created a stronger start to this series than with Rebus. I felt that The Complaints was technically better, written with a series in mind, and set up with a stronger character. I’m not knocking Rebus by any means, but there is no denying that The Complaints was far more sophisticated than Knots and Crosses.
Only downside to an audiobook is that it’s harder to remember all of the tiny details. Oh darn, I’ll just have to read it again.