20 A day with Inspector Fox

by Malcolm Redfellow

As #19 previously suggested, after the let-down that was Reamde, Malcolm [Redfellow, that is — another is along in a moment] needed a further fillip.

The old boy had been looking forward to this one and it didn’t disappoint.

Pretty well all Malcolm anticipated in that post “on the other side” came to pass:

[Rankin] bodes to be trespassing on the territory staked out by Christopher Brookmyre‘s Jack Parlabane novels.

Indeed. Bring together in an intimate family circle a serial murderer, a Chief Constable, the justice minister of the Scottish government. Dig up an awful lot of old history, involving a fair stash of loose moolah. Add in the start of a terrorist bombing campaign. Throw in police corruption and mayhem.

This is high octane stuff, indeed.

The main character — Inspector Malcolm Fox, for the slow learners — appeared previously in The Complaints. Take a quick peek at the opening of that book:

There was a smattering of applause as Malcolm Fox entered the room.
‘Don’t strain yourselves,’ he said, placing his scuffed briefcase on the desk nearest the door. There were two other Complaints in the office. They were already getting back to work as Fox slipped out of his overcoat. Three inches of snow had fallen overnight in Edinburgh. A similar amount had stopped London dead a week ago, but Fox had managed to get into work and so, by the look of it, had everyone else. The world outside felt temporarily cleansed. There had been tracks in Fox’s garden – he knew there was a family of foxes somewhere near his estate; the houses backed on to a municipal golf course. His nickname at Police HQ was ‘Foxy’, but he didn’t think of himself that way. ‘A bear of a man’ — that was the way one of his previous bosses had described him. Slow but steady, and only occasionally to be feared.

Notice how economical, how spare Rankin is. We have much of what we want, a bit of physical description, some atmosphere and a passing whiff — if not quite of Anglophobia, then a firm reminder that Scotland is different. Then check again: barely a handful of words of more than a couple of syllables.

Let us remember that “The Complaints” are the internal investigation of doings inside the police force. And that the police, wherever, are always for the purposes of crime fiction totally unreconstructed.

Now go to the opening of The Impossible Dead:

‘He’s not here,’ the desk sergeant said.
‘So where is he?’
‘Out on a call.’
Fox stared hard at the man, knowing it wouldn’t do any good. The sergeant was one of those old-timers who reckoned they’d seen it all and faced most of it down. Fox glanced at the next name on bis list.
‘Sick leave.’
‘Out on the call with Dl Scholes.’
Tony Kaye was standing just behind Fox’s left shoulder. An instant before tbe words were out of bis mouth, Fox knew what his colleague was going to say.
‘This is taking the piss.’
Fox turned to give Kaye a look. News would now travel through the station: job done. Tbe Complaints had come to town, found no one home, and had let their annoyance show, The desk sergeant shifted his weight from one foot wthe other, trying not to seem too satisfied at tbis turn of events.

Alongside that, let us set one of the more obtuse reviews this book is likely to receive:

The trouble is Malcolm [Fox] and his crew are always being given the runaround by their self-righteous colleagues and this rapidly becomes as tiresome for the reader as it is for them.

The first score of words there amount, in essence, to the whole point of the plot.

Let us not tell Mark Sanderson of the London Evening Standard that he missed the point, or that he clearly fails to understand what the detective novel is all about.

A day well spent.

It took Malcolm a short start in the evening, an early-to-bed, a period of early-hours insomnia, and a well-spent afternoon to sweep through the 373 pages.

Ian Rankin is in full form.

This is a great piece of writing.

Malcolm [Redfellow] is a happy customer.