Tuesday, 3 February 2004

Iain Banks: Complicity (1993)

Edition: Abacus, 1994
Review number: 1219

Cameron is a disillusioned left-wing Scottish journalist, whose hobbies are computer games and drug abuse. He is contacted by a mysterious source, who promises him revelations about a series of mysterious deaths of men vaguely linked to the security services in the eighties. He is following up leads from the conversations he has with this man when he suddenly discovers that the police suspect he is the killer in a current series of murders, of the type of repellent capitalist that he has spent much of his career denouncing. Whoever the killer is, they obviously know Cameron's routine intimately - he has always been in the area when an attack occurred. The only way he can prove his innocence is to discover the identity of the murderer himself.

It is interesting, re-reading Complicity, to see how much the character of Cameron pre-figures that of Ken Nott in Dead Air; they could almost be to novels about the same person, a decade apart. The similarities start with their profession, but they also share background, attitudes and habits.

As a thriller, Complicity is exciting, though since much of what makes it work is the revelation of the identity of the killer, it is a novel which works much better on a first reading than a second one. (Thinking back, I remember not expecting to like it much, being put off by the blurb on the back, but then found it much more involving.) The technique used in the two narratives - first person from Cameron's point of view, the unusual second person in the sections from the murderer's point of view - is interesting and the second person works well in causing more distaste for the violence than is usual in the thriller genre. (It also makes you wonder how true Cameron's protestations of innocence actually are, and whether he's also the narrator of these sections, using the second person to distance himself from it.

Complicity is one of Banks' most mainstream novels, but is none the worse for that. It would be one of those which provide a good introduction to his work, particularly in this case to people who are wary of his cult status.

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