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The Complaints

September 25, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Complaints HB CS1 rev.indd

I finished Ian Rankin’s latest crime novel, The Complaints, last night. Rankin, the best-selling crime novelist in the UK, centered his work for twenty years on an Edinburgh detective named John Rebus. The fictional Rebus reached retirement age two years ago, and so Rankin wrote Exit Music, the final Rebus novel, revolving around Rebus’s approaching retirement. The Complaints, Rebus’s second post-rebus novel, is also about an Edinburgh detective, Malcolm Fox.

Rankin’s novels always appear in the UK about a half year before they are published here. Whatever the logic to this, it does allow him to complete a book tour there before the US release. I started reading Rankin in 1999. We were in Scotland for about 10 days, and as we were to depart for France, I picked up his latest book out in paperback, The Hanging Garden. We were going to La Baule, the French resort on the Atlantic coast where my sister and her family used to go in August, so we could celebrate her upcoming major birthday with her. (I wrote a post about this visit last year. A year ago today in fact. It was one of my very first blog posts. As I mention in that post, we stayed at the same hotel as the then-mayor of Neuilly, a politician named Nicolas Sarkozy. My sister pointed him out and noted that he might be president one day.)

Once in La Baule, I began to read the novel. I was surprised by the amount of violence and the unpleasant characters, but I enjoyed the sense it gave me of being in Edinburgh, especially after having just been there. A couple of months later, his next novel came out in the US and I bought it. A year later, the next one came out, and suddenly I was hooked. That’s when I realized I didn’t have to wait for the US release. I began to pre-order any Rankin novel on the UK Amazon site. And when I got tired of waiting, I read in backwards order the two novels that preceded The Hanging Garden. So let’s see. Reviewing the list here, I see that I read the final 11 Rebus novels. They all contain some violence, with various thugs playing central roles. And Rebus drinks his way through all the books, alternating between alcohol and that greatest of all Scottish beverages, Irn-Bru.* He questions authority, is constantly upsetting his superiors, and never gets the appreciation he deserves, despite always getting results. But one quickly develops a fondness for him. And he manages to attract some awfully brainy women over the course of the novels.

Is there life after Rebus? If Rankin continues with Fox, his new character, I believe there will be. I wasn’t taken in at first. But then Fox wasn’t interesting at first. The events of the novel change him, or bring out features of his personality that were initially hidden. By the end, he is a richly-drawn character, and another iconoclast in the making. He too upsets and outwits superiors. And yet again, assorted crimes from the seemingly mundane and local to possible corruption at high government levels interweave in unexpected ways — unexpected except that we are so accustomed to such plotting that we know Rankin will find a way to draw them together. Contrived? Sure. But that’s part of the fun, seeing our hero figure out how the pieces fit together while everyone else is clueless.

I’m ready for more.

*On our 1999 trip, we went up to Stirling one day with our Glasgow friends to see the castle. After a long day of walking, we were sitting at the railway station waiting for the train back to Glasgow when I took Joel over to a snack stand on the platform to get a drink. He chose Irn-Bru. We both tasted it and could barely tolerate it. The bottle didn’t get finished. But five years later, when we were back staying with our Glasgow friends and going down to Troon every day to see the Open Championship (golf), Joel decided to have Irn-Bru daily. He was soon hooked. We figured out how to order it here and continue to send him a case every so often. Below is a shot of a taxi we saw in Edinburgh on that 2004 visit.

irnbrutaxi

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