The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin: a Book Review

The Impossible Dead, Ian Rankin’s second book featuring Inspector Malcolm Fox is very readable, with a nicely complicated plot, and good characterisation. Fox is still in the Complaints, now officially called Professional Ethics and Standards, but it soon becomes apparent that really he wants to be in CID. I’m not sure what to make of Fox. He’s:

… diligent and scrupulous, never a shirker. He had put in the hours, been commended for his error-free paperwork and ability to lead a team: no egos and no heroes. He hadn’t been unhappy. He had learned much and kept out of trouble. If a problem  arose, he either dealt with it or ensured it was moved elsewhere. (page 105)

And yet, he’s another loner, working best on his own, not letting on to his boss what he is working on, disregarding procedure and getting involved in cases outside his remit. He doesn’t drink because he’s an alcoholic, his marriage failed and his relationship with his sister leaves a lot to be desired (although it does improve in this book). Fox’s family life intrudes into his work and gives insight into his background and his relationship with his father and sister. He’s a complex character and I began to think that maybe he’s turning into Rebus.

Detective Constable Paul Carter has been found guilty of misconduct and Fox and his team are called to investigate whether his colleagues have covered up for him. When Paul’s uncle, Alan, a retired policeman, is found dead Fox is convinced it was murder and not suicide and begins his own independent investigations, despite being told it’s a CID case. He oversteps his remit too by investigating a cold case. When his investigations reveal links back to 1985, a time of turmoil when Scottish militants were intent on a split between Scotland and the rest of the UK, he discovers new evidence concerning the unsolved murder of one of the activists at that time.

In the second half of the book the pace and tension increase as Fox delves deeper and puts his own life in danger. I found it quite easy to see who the culprits were because their identity was signalled, but nevertheless it was a satisfying conclusion to the book.

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Orion (13 Oct 2011)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0752889532
  • ISBN-13: 978-0752889535
  • Source: I bought it
  • My Rating 3.5/5

4 thoughts on “The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin: a Book Review”

  1. I haven’t read any of this series but I like Rankin (thanks to you!), so I’m sure I’ll get around to them eventually. The detective as a loner, working on his outside on the fringes of the rules, is a stereotype but one that I like–there’s lots of issue that can make for an interesting and even unique character within that stereotypical framework, if that makes sense.

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  2. Margaret – Thanks for this fine review. It’s interesting about Fox isn’t it? He’s a bit hard to make out, although I like him as a character. I’m glad you enjoyed this entry in the series.

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