On the surface, when the Child Exploitation and Online Protection investigators ask him to look into a possible pedophile, it seems fairly straightforward. Jamie Breck is a young officer on the way up, but his name and credit-card details have turned up in a child-pornography inquiry.

Fox sets about preliminary investigations, and we're shown how much his team's activities, which must, of course, be conducted in extreme secrecy, are disliked by their colleagues, and he's not far into the investigation when a phone call advises him that his sister's partner has been found dead.

The phone call, in an amazing coincidence comes from Jamie Breck, who happens to be stationed at Heaton's old station, where there are plenty of people who'd like to get square with Fox, who has an obvious motive for the killing though the reader's fairly sure he didn't do it.

This results in the rather tricky situation where you've got two blokes investigating each other (more or less) as circumstances seem to be conspiring to push them closer together and a tentative friendship threatens both careers. 

Breck, as it turns out, isn't quite what he seems to be. 

Younger than Fox, upwardly mobile, with a sharp intelligence and a cynical awareness of the way things operate, the reader could see his relationship with a female officer as cover for pedophile activities, and his penchant for role playing computer games would probably register him as more than a tad sus, but as it turns out he's straight, and just as concerned as Fox to find out who's pulling the strings behind the scenes.

Before they know it, Fox and Breck are suspended, leaving them relatively free to work together to find out what's really going on and repair their lost reputations amid a fair bit of string-pulling in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, with failed property deals, abandoned building developments and investors (including major crime figures) who've lost a bundle, are looking to claw it back and will happily turn a blind eye to whatever's involved in doing so.

That situation, in itself, creates an interesting dilemma for Fox, a man who's used to working by the book, investigating carefully in collaboration with a team to build up a case that will then be passed on for review. In these circumstances he's forced to throw away the rule book, become proactive participant rather than a detached observer and cut a few corners.

All in all, after the relative disappointment of Doors Open, we've got a character who holds the attention, may be more subdued and controlled than the old Rebus (who's apparently retired and doing a bit of digging over old cold cases so he's not totally done for) but finds himself amidst connections, apparent coincidences and conflict of interest complications. He's a believable character, doing a nasty job that he takes seriously and wants to do well. It's a character, and a situation, that has definite potential when it comes to Rankin's preferred subject matter, the moral dimension and ethical issues involved with police work and the interactions between the police and the wider community. 

Actually, the only thing that's keeping me from starting on The Impossible Dead is the knowledge that it'll be a while before I can get my hands on a sequel.

© Ian Hughes 2012