By Iain Banks
First Published: 1993
UK Hardback Jacket Illustrated by: Peter Brown
Review © 2009 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Modern Fiction, Thriller, Literature
Complicity by Iain Banks is an awesome novel. This is not a feel good everything is going to turn out fine book. This is a complex psychological novel that plumbs the dark areas of the subconscious. It brings up serious questions about your assumptions in regards to morality. Lest I make this sound too dark, I should mention that there is also a healthy amount of wit and humor.
The central mystery to this story is the identity of a serial murderer who seems to be linked somehow to Cameron, the main character. Cameron is a journalist who thinks journalism can’t get much better than when he is working on uncovering a wide reaching conspiracy. In addition to his zeal for finding good news stories, Cameran has a few vices including addictions to video games, illegal substances, and illicit sex. While Cameran appears to have nothing but the best intentions, there are some indications that he is either consciously or perhaps unconsciously complicit in the ongoing serial murders, hence the title.
The majority of Complicity is told in present tense first person, from Cameron’s point of view. I’ve always loved the immediacy of first person narrative when it’s done well like it is here. On the other hand, scenes describing the murders that occur are told in present tense second person, from the viewpoint of the murderer. The sudden switch from first person to second person is jarring to the reader and makes it obvious when the story is being narrated by the main character and when it is being narrated by “you” the murderer. With the second person perspective, the reader is forced into the role of the bad guy. This technique is a bit awkward at first but is surprisingly effective and works to pull the reader right into the mind of the murderer. This is the best use of second person narrative form that I’ve seen.
Complicity contains intense graphic violence, drug use, and even a bit of S&M so it’s definitely not recommended for kids. However, this is a truly fascinating and thought provoking novel that every adult willing to explore the “dark side” of humanity should experience.