The Impossible Dead
Ian Rankin
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Buy *The Impossible Dead* by Ian Rankin online

The Impossible Dead
Ian Rankin
Back Bay Books
432 pages
November 2012
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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This concise but open-ended book unravels the effects of police corruption in a landscape defined by bent cops and bloody terror. Like an evening of drug-fueled ardor, Rankin’s tightly-plotted story never stops as the boys from the Complaints Department travel to Fife to investigate the nefarious activities of Detective Constable Paul Carter, recently accused of garnering sexual favors from three women on his watch.

Paul’s uncle, Alan Carter, actually made the original complaint against his nephew in a case involving a drug addict who was pressured to turn a blind eye. Paul’s offer to drop the charges if they were “accommodating” has only increased the enmity and bad blood between uncle and nephew. Although both had served on the Fife Constabulary, Paul has long been long considered the rotten apple of the family.

Is Paul Carter a slime ball, a sleazebag, and a predator? Or was he stitched up by some low-life junkie and a couple of cheap dates? The prosecution faltered, but an internal inquiry has seen him kicked off the force anyway. Promising a rigorous investigation, it’s left up to Malcolm Fox and his buddies, Joe Naysmith and Tony Kaye, to uncover the facts. "We're not in the business of making waves we just want the truth,” deadpans Fox when he’s faced with the officious might of Fife Constabulary’s old boy’s club.

One thing is certain: Carter’s own colleagues seemed “either willfully stupid or willfully complicit,” especially Officer Scholes, who knew for years that Carter was a bad cop and protected and lied for him. The jackhammer starts, and Fox, Naysmith, and Kaye find themselves burrowing ever-deeper into the different facets of the case, considering all the angles and options.

With deft economy, Rankin sets his intricate plot moving, plumbing the depths of human depravity. Focusing on Fox, the author collides the detective’s professional existence with his private life. Things don’t go well: after being interviewed, one of the girls--Teresa Collins--attempts suicide. Then a pivotal character is found dead, the crime quite possibly murder.

Fox is plagued by a vague sense of guilt. Sometimes you have to draw a line between yourself and the ones you’re supposed to love. Fox's father, Mitch, lies in a rest home fighting dementia, while his sister, Jude, blindsides her brother with anger. From police corruption to the fear of domestic terrorism, Special Branch is interested, and an offer of big money is worth killing for.

Rankin knows his material well, setting the story in his beloved surrounds of Edinburgh and Fife. Like a fly trapped in ointment, there’s a deadly sense of intrigue to the events of April 1985 and the mysterious death of noted Edinburgh lawyer Francis Vernal. A firebrand who "put hairs on your arms," Vernal was an SNP man. Devoted to the nationalist cause, Vernal’s shared passion and frustration contributed to Scottish anger and to a deep sense of injustice.

Reminiscent of Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories, Rankin's novel abounds with gray solemnity. Fox’s head spins with anguish, yet he is always diligent and perceptive. This is recognizable terrain for Rankin: a lonely hero, often difficult and determined but also heroic and courageous as he fights for the good of the common man.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2011

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