Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Never complain, never explain (H. Ford)

The Complaints was our entertainment during our lengthy drive from Portland to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks this month. Upon arrival, we had to do a little bit of extra driving around to finish off the last 66 minutes because we didn't have access to a player (and as I type this, I give myself the dope slap -- I had my laptop, duh!) outside of the car. Sitting in the car in a hot, exposed burn area, we then tried to make sense of what we had just finished. Alas, I'm still not entirely clear, but I think author Ian Rankin likes it that way.

Rankin has retired (he's not dead is he? ... I'm not up to the last novel yet) legendary Inspector John Rebus, and he's moved to another department in the Lothian and Borders Police, the Professional Standards Unit, otherwise known as Complaints and Conduct. This is where the police police themselves (in the U.S., it's usually called Internal Affairs?), its officers are sarcastically referred to as The Complaints. On the surface, Inspector Malcolm Fox is the antithesis of his literary predecessor -- sober, connected to family, willing to work with others, preferring birdsong on the radio to classic rock; plus you get the feeling he may have had a run-in or two with Rebus -- yet as we get to know him, we see the a similar independent streak and crafty intelligence. It shouldn't surprise you to learn that Fox himself gets suspended, but he still can't stop solving the crime(s).

Said crime involves real estate gone bust, an online pedophile ring, the murder of Fox's sister's abusive boyfriend, and more that all twist together into something that makes a little sense. I still can't get my head around the deus ex machina who appears near the end of the novel and explains why they had to manipulate Fox so ... but ten days later, I really don't care. I like the metaphor of Fox, and that everyone is the novel is complaining about something. Rankin's writing is pure pleasure and -- having recently been there -- I love the way that Edinburgh is always a central character.

The audiobook is in fine hands in the voice of narrator Peter Forbes. Forbes reads with a pleasant Scottish burr that he adapts and tempers depending on who is speaking. Characters are pretty easy to tell apart, although I experienced occasional confusion when Fox and the other main male character, Jamie Breck, are conversing. For an author who propels his plot along with a lot of dialogue, Rankin doesn't write a lot of "Fox said"s. Everyone sounds like a real person and considering the large size of the cast of characters, this is a great narrator job. Forbes keeps the complex story moving along.

I blame myself for not really understanding the story's conclusion; I don't think it's difficult to sustain concentration as one listens to books in substantial chunks (much larger chunks than I'm used to), but maybe I zoned out somewhere in Idaho. Rebus novels (which I have only eye-read) are often confusing, but I'm always able to leaf back to clarify something. Maybe I'll test myself by listening to an upcoming Rebus novel and reading the next Malcolm Fox.

[The rather amusing Wikimedia complaint flowchart can be viewed in all its glory if you click on it. It was designed by Cary Bass and retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]

The Complaints by Ian Rankin
Narrated by Peter Forbes
AudioGO, 2011. 12:16

1 comment:

Sue Jackson said...

Ah, a trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton...sound wonderful!!

My husband and I sometimes find that mysteries can be hard to follow on audio, just because it's difficult to go back and check on names, dates, details, etc. It's especially hard if you don't listen all at once (we had one mystery that took us a full year to finish because we're rarely in the car alone together!).

I hadn't heard of this author before, but he sounds worth looking into. Thanks for the review!

Sue