As a huge fan of Rebus, I very much looked forward to Ian Rankin’s new novel and main character Malcolm Fox. The storm was howling against my windows, the weather rainy as ever could be, still I was awaiting a very enjoyable winter weekend read on my sofa in front of the open fire and a warming drink. Maybe I was much too full of expectation not to be dissapointed. All the booze I drank instead of teetotal Inspector Fox didn’t help a bit to colour up the tedious story.
Usually my policy is not to write disapproving reviews. Time’s too precious to bother. But I feel cheated. There is absolutely nothing of any excitement going on in „The Complaints“. The plot is so slow, you wonder if there was any. If you ever were in doubt how powerfully the team play of editors and tenure tracked reviewers could lead you on a merry dance, here’s the proof. Remarkable about ‚The Complaints“ is nothing but that it is totally unremarkable except for the fact that it’s a bestseller.
Seems Rankin got an obsession presenting the drinking habits of his characters. Didn’t count how often, but near every beverage taken in the run of a day by every protagonist was listed and described. That’s about the action. Next is the repeatedly underlining how formidably modern everybody is using computers, cell phones and what not of high tech. Is he trying to show the readers he eventually got it worked out to handle this tricky machines? Ok, let’s be fair and not jump on conclusions. But what can you expect if an author tries to cover the addiction to online games, paedophilia, abuse of women and the meltdown of finances and Scottish real estates in one plot? You’re stuffed with an endless string of forcefully connected bits of action. Rather non-actions, as all you get is what happens in Malcolm Foxes head. He and his team is tasked with investigating dirty officers getting their hands greased. Where morally impeccable DI John Rebus was not giving a damn about keeping to the rules, earnest Malcolm Fox is anxious not to step on anybody’s toes. Admittedly, times have changed and Rebus would only give a comical figure in police headquarters of today. Foxy, as he likes to be called, is a character as fascinating as a cautious tax inspector.
You could call Rankin a brave author as he risks showing to you in full broadness the drudgery of nowadays police work. You get the impression, it’s more about keeping one’s arse covered than going on criminals. We all know times are not what we would like them to be. And it’s only realistic that a modern male police officer has to get along with a boring, drunken and abused sister and an ailing father. But Fox manages too well. He’s so damn perfect, of highest moral quality and amazingly clever, he simply bored me endlessly. It was much too clear it would all work out fine without me ever having to feel seriously worried.
I will not deny, Ian Rankin is very good at getting you inside the head of his characters…masterfully even. But his main and most other characters are totally uninspiring chumps. I’m not reading a thriller because I want a pedantically realistic portraiture of everyday life. I’d like the hero to be a lot more juicy. And I certainly don’t want to spend time with such a prying, scrutinizing smart arse I have to cope with on the job anyway.
This novel „The Complaints“ does not deserve the benefit of the first doubt. Ian Rankin should have known much better as the experienced author he is. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on any future Fox novels, but do expect a lot less complacency of Malcolm Fox and Ian Rankin. Yes. Rankin and his editor are by far too certain his books will be bestsellers. Seen in the high moral light of Rebus and Fox, Rankin played a bad trick on his readers.
This novel’s only good for sending you to sleep though you suffer from insomnia. Pardon my French.