Iain Banks likes to start his novels with a bang: an instant shocker to confirm his promise as the darkest novelist in the English mainstream - a title he has held since he burst onto the scene in 1981 with The Wasp Factory. In Complicity he does not disappoint: immediately he gives us murder (a nasty one at that) and only first of many. Complicity is, baring it down to the bones, a murder mystery: but of course, being Banks, it is never so simple as that.
Like The Crow Road (1992), Complicity shows a maturation of Banks' style from his earlier novels. As well as having a wonderful knack for helping the reader visualise scenes in his novels, he is able, through the use of only first and second person narrative, to inject pace and dark realism through the text. It is this narrative that is the most striking thing about Complicity. Giving us a wonderful insight into the mind of our (anti-) hero, CC, and the murderer; Banks is able to use colloquialism, tap into drugged thoughts, and (through the occasional change in viewpoint) to put the doubt in our minds: is CC complicit in the murders that pepper the plot?
CC could be said to be a typical Banks' character: he is adult, a hard-bitten, political, cynical journalist who takes drugs, is involved in a sado-masochistic relationship and plays computer games, yet as we see into his life, and his attitude towards it, he is almost childlike in his recklessness and lack of control. When he, while investigating a plot involving mysterious deaths, nuclear weapons and Iraq, is implicated in the gruesome murders of prominent members of society he had previously vilified in press, he finds he has to grow up quickly. Banks' has managed, as he did with Prentice McHoan in The Crow Road to write a true character, with whom readers can identify (though not necessarily agree with) without resort to characature or extremes of action. In addition, he has again managed to draw in interesting minor characters: Frank his office mate, obsessed with the spell-checker on his computer (it is obvious that Banks' has become a computer addict as computer terminology pops up regularly through the book); 'V', his married lover; Andy his Falklands' hero friend who has become a hermit in his own tumbledown hotel, among others, all help provide the vivid background.
Complicity is, in my opinion, one of Banks' best novels (along with The Crow Road) and, though not science fiction, should be of interest to anyone who appreciates dark humour, a vivid prose style and some of the most well drawn characters in recent fiction.
Copyright 1993 Helen Steele