Is One of Your Neighbors a Terrorist?

The Impossible DeadThe Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The police thriller has many fine practitioners that have filled bookshelves with compelling stories — Ed McBain’s richly noir world in Isola, and the Los Angeles of Harry Bosch that Michael Connelly has created are two fictitious realities that stay with the reader long after putting the book down.

In any conversation about great police thrillers, you have to include Ian Rankin, whose “The Impossible Dead” is a sequel to “The Complaints.” His main character, Malcolm Fox, continues a tradition of Rankin detectives that internalize the mayhem that they experience, both in their personal and professional lives, and exude a quiet anger at the injustices in the reality around them. While Rankin’s first major character, John Rebus, would likely take a bat to anyone in the Complaints Division, the teetotaling Fox is Rebus after rehab, in a number of ways.

“The Impossible Dead” involves Malcolm Fox’s Complaints Division (the Scottish equivalent to what police departments here call “Internal Affairs” is looking into a coverup of a sexual harassment complaint against Paul Carter. Naturally, his colleagues have all dummied up. When Paul Carter’s uncle Alan, who turned in his nephew and caused the investigation in the first place, turns up dead, and his nephew was the last person to see him alive, the wheels start turning faster and faster.

The further Fox digs into this haggis of intrigue, Fox finds so much to deal with, in addition to turning up mysterious nationalist terrorists from the 1960’s, that what is a thematically rich novel founders a bit on plot. The musings in the story about the pride that backed the Scottish nationalists in their rage against the British government; the sadness that comes with caring for one’s parents, after they can’t take care of themselves; the difficulties of dealing with siblings that resent your success and their own failings; all of these weave richly through the story.

However, it would have just taken a swift trip through Google Images for any intrepid reporter to keep some of these shadowy figures from the terrorist past in Scotland from inhabiting their current lives (I won’t say more, because it’s central to the plot). Just know that the twists and turns in the narrative, which Rankin generally has conducted so masterfully, seem a bit contrived at the end. A compelling read, but one which leaves you shaking your head at the end.

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