Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Complicity by Iain Banks

It’s always a bit sad going through the left over books of a favourite author after they’ve died. You just know that the remaining number is finite, there’s a counter in the corner. I’ve thankfully still got lots of the non-sci-fi Iain Banks stuff to go thankfully, with Complicity being my favourite of these so far.

Cameron Cooley is a journalist in Edinburgh who gets through each day with a lethal cocktail of drugs and alcohol. He’s been receiving anonymous tips related to a series of unsolved murders from several years prior, against powerful and corrupt figures which seem to have been political in nature. As he investigates, it becomes clearer that he has some personal connection to these crimes. Meanwhile, we see a series of grisly and inventive new murders occur in the second person.

Complicity is a very clever book with an entertaining, slightly pulpy edge. The visceral descriptions of brutal murders and kinky sex are designed to titillate and there’s a self consciously unpleasant pornographic edge to the whole thing, which I believe is the point. The title is Complicity and is all about the shared responsibility that all people have for the world that we live in, with the protagonist and antagonist having very different views on how this should be acted upon. By making the murders so weirdly fascinating the reader becomes complicit in them; however, maybe I’m just a sociopath who’s reading too much into it. Regardless, Complicity is a clever book which deals with weighty themes whilst never forgetting to be entertaining.

There’s really no one who captures that combination of a sardonic, one eyebrow cocked irony with crushing cynicism quite like Iain Banks. This book was frequently hilarious but left me feeling queasy and upset; that genuine gamut of emotional reaction is vital to his writing. I’m not sure if there’s anyone who walks that line as confidently as Banks did.

Cameron is a deeply flawed protagonist who’s done some pretty dreadful stuff, but he’s hard not to root for. I can’t really talk about the best character without spoiling the plot, all I’ll say is that one character delivers a multipage monologue about their motivations and it’s genuinely electrifying reading. Banks does a good job of ensuring that even minor characters have at least one trait to make them memorable.

Complicity is a complicated and interesting book which is all about showing the worst of the world and bringing out that worst in the reader. It sounds negative and unpleasant and…well, it is, but it’s also an enjoyable read. This is a difficult trick to pull off and one that Iain Banks showed himself capable of time and time again.



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