In Ian Rankin's latest, something's rotten in Kirkcaldy

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Cops who investigate other cops are seldom popular with their colleagues. They're known among their colleagues -- not affectionately -- as "The Complaints." Scottish writer Ian Rankin initiated a series about this unique subdivision of law enforcement earlier this year, replacing his previous iconic Inspector Rebus with the vulnerable, sometimes sensitive, reformed alcoholic Inspector Malcolm Fox.

'The Impossible Dead???
By Ian Rankin
Little, Brown ($25.99).

It comes as no surprise to Fox and his cohorts, Sergeant Tony Kaye and Constable Joe Naysmith, that when they embark on a case in Kirkcaldy -- a costal town 40 minutes from Edinburgh -- that the three officers they intend to interrogate there are "on sick leave" or "out on a call." The hostility they encounter within their own profession is open and vicious. Neither the real bad guys nor those who are supposed to be on their side will cooperate.

Given that, Fox and his cadre make surprising headway when they set out to investigate whether fellow cops were covering up for one Detective Paul Carter, who was turned in by his own uncle, and has been found guilty of misconduct. Carter's chief crime was using his position to gain sexual favors from young women in the area. When Carter is released from prison pending an appeal, the safety of those who testified against him may be threatened. Violent crimes now abound in this previously peaceful 'burb.

Much of the interest in this elegantly written tale comes from the characters themselves: the interactions among the three "Complaints" guys, the varying degrees of dishonesty (or occasionally, honesty) among members of the Kirkcaldy cops and the complications that plague the hero's own life. There are no astounding surprises in the plot; discoveries come smoothly yet inevitably.

Fox's investigation uncovers previous crimes that may have been covered up in 1985, possibly involving a deceased relative of Fox himself. The further Fox gets with his detective work, the more uncomfortable things become for the local establishment, to the extent that Fox is removed from the case, and it is left for Kaye and Naysmith to tie things up.

This doesn't stop Fox from continuing to work on the mystery, in defiance of his superiors' orders. Interwoven with all this are issues with Fox's father, in early stages of dementia, and care-giving problems to be shared with his resentful sister Jude, who can't understand why Fox frequently puts his job ahead of family.

Robert Croan is a Post-Gazette senior editor.


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