Since Ian Rankin retired Rebus a few years back, he’s been having a lot of fun.
There was a comic book, a standalone heist story, and The Complaints, a novel that introduced Malcolm Fox, a cop who investigates cops. Throughout all of these, Rankin was clearly enjoying the freedom to write whatever he liked. That feeling continues with The Impossible Dead, a second Malcolm Fox novel which confirms Fox as an intriguing character full of depth – and consolidates Rankin’s place at the forefront of the crime writing pack.
Fox and his two sidekicks, Tony Kaye and Joe Naysmith, have been sent to Fife, Scotland, to investigate a cover-up surrounding corrupt officer Paul Carter. Carter has been shopped by his own uncle, a retired policeman himself, but what should be a simple investigation gets more complicated as Fox has to work with antagonistic local police covering their own backs. Then, when some people crucial to the case are found dead, it becomes much more serious indeed.
Like all of Rankin’s work, The Impossible Dead is impeccably plotted and paced, with regular twists and turns along the way, and part of the joy is trying to keep up with the intricacies of the ongoing investigation. Fox is less obviously damaged than Rebus, but still compelling, and Rankin does a good job of fleshing out his backstory, specifically strained relationships with his sister and seriously ill father.
Rankin’s work has always had a strong social commentary running through it and The Impossible Dead is no exception. As Fox gets deeper into the case, he discovers links back to the mid-1980s and a spate of Scottish Nationalist extremist terrorist acts such as letter bombs and bank robberies. The idea of the past coming back to haunt people is examined with skill, and Fox’s dogged tenacity in chasing the story amid all sorts of pressures makes The Impossible Dead a fine addition to Rankin’s impressive body of work.