Author of the Month

Name: Ian Rankin

First Novel: The Flood

Most Recent Book: The Impossible Dead

'...a potent book to read right now!'

When Malcolm Fox and his team investigate an officer for corruption they get the verdict they wanted. The evidence against Paul Carter was overwhelming and the women who came forward to testify against him leads to him being announced as guilty. Now Fox is back in Fife to investigate Carter’s colleagues, the three men who closed ranks to protect their friend, despite what they knew. But it is after interviewing Carter’s uncle who started the original investigation that things get very interesting. Soon after Carter is on bail pending his sentence and then his uncle is killed – shot with a gun that shouldn’t exist. Then another death occurs and Fox and his team are embroiled in a case that harks back to the death decades before of a prominent orator of the Eighties.

How do the plans of Terrorist splinter groups reach down through the years to what is happening now? Yet again, Fox is thrown off a case only to go ‘maverick’ and start his own digging. But Fox soon discovers that he has bitten off more than he can chew and that many people in high places will do whatever it takes to keep the past well and truly buried…

Following on from the bestseller, ‘The Complaints’, Rankin moves us along two years and, like Rebus, we are in ‘real time’. There have been significant changes in Fox’s world and some things just don’t change. He is still single, he is still with ‘Complaints’ and yet again he is digging a little deeper for some people’s comfort. One thing that has changed is Mrs. Sanderson, Mitch Fox’s companion at Lauder Lodge has passed on. I can’t say why, but the loss of Mrs. Sanderson had a profound effect on me.

With many Rankin novels, several strands are kept smoothly running, each ball in the air never touching until the lines get blurred and over time you can see the strands merging, all heading to the same inevitable conclusion. It is down to Rankin’s mastery of telling a good story well told and without unnecessary deviation, embroidery or confusion that the dense story as told in ‘The Impossible Dead’ is easily followed. And that is down to the writer who always gives us a visual picture in our heads, whether it is Edinburgh or Fife or a little tic or mannerism of a character. Rankin knows how to flesh people and places out with a few simple words. I imagine he takes a few tips from his admired author, the incomparable Muriel Spark who produced brilliant, slim novels whilst telling a full bodied story.

What more is there is say? Rankin is one of the biggest crime writers in the UK. I enjoyed ‘The Complaints’ and love the new team, especially Tony Kaye who is an excellent foil to Fox. ‘The Impossible Dead’ however is several gears up and gives a storming tale of youth, young dreams and the reality of age and experience and what people are prepared to fight for. On different levels it is also about acceptance and that which cannot be changed – by people or unknown forces. ‘The Impossible Dead’ is a riveting read full of guts, very strong and a potent book to read right now!

Reviewed by:

CrimeSquad Rating


1) What makes a truly great crime/thriller novel?
What makes a great crime thriller? Credible characters whom we care about, a strong plot for them to work within, sense of place, twists and turns, plus an original or charismatic 'voice' on the author's part. Simple really.
2) Are you surprised by the diversity of the crime genre? Do you think crime readers are always open to different styles?
I think some readers have their favoured sub-genres: cosy, historical, hard-boiled. It can be difficult to persuade a fan of hard-boiled that there is something to be gained from reading a mystery in which a cat plays detective. Unless it's a hard-boiled cat, of course.
3) ‘The Impossible Dead’ is the second novel to feature Malcolm Fox and his team. In your new novel I got the feeling they had been around longer than two novels. Are ‘The Complaints’ team in for the long haul?
I doubt the Complaints team will be around for as long as Rebus - in reality, an internal affairs posting would last only 3 or 4 years, maybe 5 at the outside. Soon, Fox and the others will go back to CID, working alongside some of the very people they've investigated or had cause to question. Which in itself could make for an interesting dynamic and therefore an interesting book.
4) We got quite a bit of Fox’s past in the first novel and a little more in this latest. Will you be slowly unveiling Fox’s past as the novels progress? Will we hear more about his mother and Malcolm’s disastrous marriage?
One thing I like about Fox is that he is close to his surviving family, in a way that Rebus wasn't. Rebus pushed people away; Fox doesn't do that. I enjoy writing about his friendship with his father, and his prickly relationship with his sister. Maybe these can be explored further.
5) I love the character of Kaye. Will he and Naysmith be coming more to the fore in the future?
I really like Tony Kaye - I suppose he's the Rebus of the group, the rule-breaker, the one who'll always try to go that little bit too far unless reined in by Fox. I also like the little bit of needle between him and the younger, cooler Naysmith - I think it's pretty well summed up in the opening pages of the book.
6) ‘The Impossible Dead’ involves a complex plot based in 1985. Was this a nostalgic time for you? Was it easy to re-visit that time period that is already being classed as ‘history’?
1985 was not a nostalgic time for me - quite the opposite. I was a student at Edinburgh University, with my head stuck inside books - all this stuff was happening in the real world and I had almost no notion of it - CND, acid rain, nuclear warheads, Hilda Murrell, Scottish terror groups. I saw an article in a paper about this lawyer who had been found badly injured in his car; wasn't until they got him to hospital that they found the bullet-hole in his skull, by which time he was dead. Ruled suicide, but he had ties to these domestic extremists, and there was speculation about what had really happened to him. I then did a lot of reading about the period 1984-86 and started to think: I remember almost none of this. Bombs sent to Whitehall, Downing Street and Princess Diana? Anthrax spores dropped in the mail? I started to sense my theme and plot.
7) As with many of your books, including this latest, there are several strands from different investigations going on. How do you keep a tab on keeping those strands under control and bringing you to the conclusion you planned?
The first draft is rough and ready. It's about making sure the main plot works, and also beginning to see connections between one strand of the plot and another, or between the main plot and sub-plot. It is only through writing this first draft - exploring the territory much like a detective - that I spot connections between characters and scenes.
8) ‘The Impossible Dead’ takes place two years after your first Fox novel, ‘The Complaints’. You did the same with Rebus by writing in ‘real time’. Why do you use this method?
I want my books to be believable, and it helps the reader to suspend disbelief if they recognise the world and the time-frame. I also want to write about the evolving nature of Scottish and British society, and again I can't do that if my stories and characters are set in amber.
9) Malcolm Fox has a problem with drink – but not in the same way as Rebus. Why did you give your main character this flaw?
Maybe I've just met too many 'old school' cops who have battled with the bottle in their personal and professional lives. Or maybe it was because I prefer writing about flawed characters, just as readers seem to prefer reading about them.
10) Obviously I cannot send you a Q&A without referring to Rebus. Do you miss him?
I know what Rebus is doing - he works as a civilian on cold case reviews. This unit exists in real life, staffed by 3 retired detectives and one serving officer. The perfect job for Rebus, who needs work in order to stop from drinking himself into oblivion. So he works out of the same building as Fox, and who knows - maybe they'll meet in the future.
11) There were two TV incarnations of Rebus. How did you feel about seeing your creation on TV and did you feel the transference to TV did your books justice?
I've never watched Rebus on TV. I was talking about this very thing last night at a book festival in Northern Ireland. I was onstage with Colin Bateman, who scripted one of the later episodes - from his own storyline rather than using one of the novels. I could offer no analysis because I've never seen it. I have the DVDs, and maybe one of these days. Maybe....
12) What is your favourite crime/thriller novel of all time?
That's a tough one. I owe huge debts to the likes of William ('Laidlaw') McIlvanney and James ('White Jazz') Ellroy, but also to the likes of Ruth Rendell and even Leo Malet. There are also quirky 'crime' novels such as Muriel Spark's 'The Driver's Seat' and Scottish 'gothic' novels such as 'Jekyll and Hyde' and 'Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner'. That last one should be more widely known, so maybe say that. It is by James Hogg.