Ian Rankin is the U.K.’s most popular crime writer. His books have won numerous prestigious awards and been on every bestseller list. Two of his novels, starring the famous Inspector Rebus, have been made into television shows. Without going into any more detail, Mr. Rankin is an excellent writer. His book, The Complaints, first published in 2009, and already out in paperback in the U.K., features a new protagonist: Inspector Malcolm Fox.
Fox is an interesting character, somewhat of an anachronism. He is pragmatic; he wears suspenders to actually hold up his pants, rather than as a fashion accessory. Honest, determined, slow and methodical, are attributes that best describe this likeable cop. Fox is assigned to a unit that investigates other cops. In the U.S. we call these units: IAD (Internal Affairs Division) or OPR (Office of Professional Review). The U.K. refers to them as The Complaints, or to use the official name: Complaints and Conduct Department.
Regardless of the name, it’s a division within any police department that is looked down upon by most other cops. Some of the colloquialisms for the unit are: “head hunters, dark side, and ball busters.” Other cops will tell you that cops who work in units like IAD are ones who can’t make it working the streets and are looking to be fast tracked for promotion. They rarely socialize with anyone outside of their own unit, and once they are identified as The Complaints when they visit a station, they are treated like lepers.
Mr. Rankin’s protagonist has heard and seen it all, and on top of all the abuse from fellow cops he has other problems to bear. His frail father is in a nursing home, which costs Fox a large portion of his police salary each month, and his sister insists on staying in a physically abusive cohabitation, one that strains the siblings’ own relationship. To top it off, Fox is a recovering alcoholic who seems to constantly think about taking a drink.
However, as the story develops, Fox finds he has even bigger problems. He’s assigned to investigate a cop who is suspected of being involved in an international pedophile ring. Despite the serious implications of the alleged criminal activity, Fox finds himself building a friendship with the man he is assigned to scrutinize. During the course of the investigation, a number of tragic events cause the two adversaries to bond and become a team of sorts. They are faced with a number of challenges that not only threaten each officer’s career, but their very lives.
The Complaints is set in Edinburgh, Scotland, the capital and second largest city. Mr. Rankin takes us on somewhat of a guided tour throughout the story. He describes fabulous architecture one moment, and then gives us a glimpse of the gritty underground the next. Some of the lexicon used by the characters, particularly as it relates to police work, may be burdensome.
Most of the terminology is dissimilar to our own police jargon, but after several chapters the reader should be able to make the adjustment and figure out what the author is describing. What is not very different is the political influence and interference experienced by the police. Graft and corruption are universal problems that permeate most large cities and influence those in power. Fox and his partner find themselves in the thick of it and must find a way to either fight their way through it or around it.
The author disappointed many of his fans when he retired the beloved John Rebus. But I predict the grumbling will be short lived once Rankin’s readers meet Inspector Malcolm Fox in The Complaints.