Ian Rankin – “The Impossible Dead”

The Impossible Dead is a solid, beefy mystery with Scottish atmosphere and slow-burn tension in ample supply.

Ian Rankin makes writing these stories together look so easy—he’s such a genuine, non-flashy storyteller—but the effect is like some kind of trick. You are up and running alongside Matthew Fox and have as much desire as he does to figure out what the hell is going on before you know you’ve hopped in the car and are out for a look-around. Rankin pulls you in close. As a reader, you are trusted. 

And you care about the very sticky situation Matthew Fox finds himself in—a cop investigating other cops—and how others view him.  Matthew Fox works with a group of officers known as The Complaints, Internal Affairs. 

“Part of the appeal of the Complaints had been its focus on rules broken rather than bones, on cops who crossed the line but were not violent men. Did that make him a coward? He didn’t think so. Less of a copper? Again, no.”

The Impossible Dead starts small–at least, relatively tame–and then the layers start peeling back. The ticklish-dicey-sticky relationship between an Internal Affairs a cop and other cops lives on almost every page, even as Fox’s pals in The Complaints caution Fox as he expands the initial investigation and starts to follow all the questions that come his way, not just the ones he’s been assigned to answer.

And Fox knows he might not be in The Complaints forever—and must respect that fact. Fox’s task is make sure regular cops aren’t cutting corners because “in a year or two he would be back in CID himself, rubbing shoulders with those he had scrutinised; trying to put drug dealers behind bars without bending the rules, fearful of The Complaints and coming to despise them.”

It’s complicated. Fox’s life is complicated. The case is—a touch—complicated (I’d say it’s just about right, but you have to pay attention). The investigation does not lead in a straight line. It’s messy. There’s a murder that has its roots in 1985 and a very different era in Scottish history, when ardent separatists used terrorism as a tactic. Of course, it’s been a long time since then and people have changed. Really changed. 

The ending of The Impossible Dead stays within itself and packs the proverbial wallop because of that very fact. The plot still has its feet very much on the ground and the final face-off is suspenseful and satisfying. 

There are 17 Inspector Rebus novels and I’ve only read a few. I’m sure I’ve missed a few gems and a recent interview with Rankin discovered that one of Rankin’s stand-alone stories, Doors Open, is one of his best-sellers.  The guy is in his early 50’s and has only 31 books to his name. (Slacker!) I need to go back and devour a few more Rebus titles, but first I need to go back and read the first in the series, The Complaints.


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