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Book review: <i>Complicity</i> by Iain Banks

The genre of thriller is a big one. And a maligned one... for those lovers of the trashy thriller, it’s all well and good, but for those of us suffering from literary snobbery, the thriller genre gets brushed over when we’re looking for quality reading material. Unless of course, we decide to read Iain Banks...

The story

Cameron Colley is a hard hitting journo who likes to drink, smoke, take speed, and play the latest computer games (okay, so it’s 1993 in this book and he occasionally plays on an Atari, but I’m sure it was cutting edge at the time). He has annoying work colleagues, a kinky married mistress, a nasty cough, and a new anonymous source called Mr Archer who keeps phoning him, sending him to obscure pay phone locations to crack a huge conspiracy of arms dealing, governmental secrecy proportions. Then all of a sudden, the police are at his paper wanting a chat. People that Cameron exposed in his column for being the worst kind of scum... dodgy businessmen, pornographers, incompetent judiciary... are winding up dead or badly assaulted. And very neatly, Cameron’s evenings of driving around the countryside waiting for Mr Archer to phone a pay phone just so happen to coincide with when alibis are required.

Cameron’s life is thrown into disarray. Who would deliberately frame him this way? And what about the conspiracy? It’s up to Cameron to crack the case and find the murderer. And can he do it before more people die?

The style

Not being a huge sci-fi/fantasy fan, I’ve only ever read one other Iain Banks novel—The Wasp Factory—even though I know he’s great and he has an excellent reputation. So Complicity was a good option—all the darkness and style that Iain Banks has to offer without the whole sci-fi business. And with the added bonus of being a literary style thriller! What fun. Anyway, it’s a quick read and a fun read. There is a strong Scottish voice through the story, with the odd word or accentuated accent in there, and it’s all pretty cold and rainy and dark which is what you want in a good thriller. Furthermore, Cameron goes on some paragraph-long, unpunctuated rants while he’s upset or drunk or speeding, which works excellently with his character.

There are two voices in the story—Cameron’s narrative is in the first person, and then there is a second person narrative (i.e. you go into the library, you eat an ice-cream, you kill some guy, etc.) for the sections where you see through the killer’s eyes. Now I have a personal dislike for the second person narrative; it makes me feel like I am reading a choose your own adventure story. All the adult books I have read in the second person have been substandard, so I was initially a bit turned off. But I must clarify that as the story continued, using the two narratives, it worked extremely well. Cameron is “I”, with his own character traits. If the killer had also been “I”, that would have been downright confusing. If the killer had been third person, that wouldn’t have given the reader the sense of closeness with the killer that was required to make the story so thrilling. So it was really the best choice, and now I’ve seen second person narrative work I don’t hate it quite so much.

All in all, the characters are superbly developed, the style is quick and brutal and vivid, and sucks you into the story. A great read.

Who is this book for?

Like your thrillers, particularly those of the non-American bent? This one will knock your socks off and you won’t want to put it down. You could read it on the bus on the way to work, but you won’t want to put it down once you get there...

If you like this book, you would also like...

The Wasp Factory, also by Iain Banks. If you want the thriller kind of read but with a really distinct literary style, anything that is James Ellroy.

In short

Title: Complicity
Author: Iain Banks
Publisher: Bantam
ISBN: 0553573713
Year published: 1993
Pages: 274
Genre(s): Thriller
Review Type: