AskDefine | Define complicity

Dictionary Definition

complicity n : guilt as an accomplice in a crime or offense

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. The state of being complicit; involvement as a partner or accomplice, especially in a crime or other wrongdoing.
    His complicity in the fraud scheme was proved during the trial.
  2. Complexity.

Derived terms


The state of being complicit
  • Albanian: bashkëfajësi
  • French: complicité
  • German: Mittäterschaft
  • Portuguese: cumplicidade


  • Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., 1989.
  • Random House Webster's Unabridged Electronic Dictionary, 1987-1996

Extensive Definition

Complicity is a novel by Scottish author Iain Banks. It was published in 1993.

Plot introduction

Its two main characters are Cameron Colley, a journalist on a Scottish newspaper called The Caledonian, which resembles The Scotsman, and a serial murderer whose identity is a mystery. The passages dealing with the journalist are written in the first person, and those dealing with the murderer in the second person (not the more common third), so the novel presents, in alternate chapters, an unusual example of an unreliable narrator. The events take place mostly in and around Edinburgh.

Plot summary

Colley is a "Gonzo journalist" with an amphetamine habit, living in Edinburgh. He also smokes cigarettes and cannabis, drinks copious amounts of alcohol, plays computer games, and has adventurous sex with a married woman, Yvonne. He regrets his addictions and misdemeanours and tries half-heartedly to give them up occasionally.
He reflects on his awful experience of witnessing the aftermath of the massacre at the 'Highway of Death' in the Gulf War, and covers the deployment of HMS Vanguard, Britain's first Trident nuclear missile submarine.
He thinks he has a scoop when he receives anonymous phone calls about a series of mysterious deaths. Suddenly he has mysterious deaths of his own to worry about, when an editorial he wrote years before comes back to haunt him. In it, he suggested that certain named capitalist and right-wing public figures would be better hate-figures than the conventional ones of foreign leaders or domestic criminals. It seems someone is killing off the people on his list, one by one. The description of the murders (which are ingeniously sadistic) is done in a fairly detailed manner.
Under suspicion by the police, Colley finds himself involved doubly in the bizarre murders when the killer is revealed... At the end of the book, Colley is diagnosed with lung cancer (a downbeat ending omitted in the film adaptation).

Literary significance & criticism

Banks has claimed in an interview that Complicity is "[a] bit like The Wasp Factory except without the happy ending and redeeming air of cheerfulness". The Wasp Factory is of course quite a macabre book itself.
Complicity has been compared with Tam o' Shanter in its portrayal of the human, and particularly Scottish, attitude to sin and transgression. The themes of violence and substance abuse in the book, along with the grim ending, seem to point to Banks' growing pacifism.
Cameron Colley strongly resembles Ken Nott in Banks' later book Dead Air.
Significant sections of the novel are written in second-person narrative.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

A motion picture called Complicity (or Retribution in some markets) based on the novel was filmed in 2000.


The two computer games Cameron plays are Despot (which strongly resembles Civilization) and Xerium, an invented spaceship game.
An extract from the book was published in the Spring 1993 edition of the magazine Granta (#43) Best of Young British Novelists 2, ISBN 0-14-014059-X with the title Under Ice.


Complicity, Iain Banks, Little, Brown and Company 1993, ISBN 0-349-10571-5
Iain Banks's Complicity: A Reader's Guide, Cairns Craig, Continuum International Publishing Group 2002, ISBN 0-826-45247-4

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

arraignability, arraignableness, artifice, association, bipartisanship, blameworthiness, bloody hands, burden, cabal, censurability, censurableness, chargeability, coaction, coadjuvancy, coadministration, coagency, cochairmanship, codirectorship, collaboration, collaborativeness, collectivism, collusion, commensalism, common effort, common enterprise, communalism, communism, communitarianism, community, complot, concert, concord, concordance, concurrence, condominium, confederacy, connivance, conspiracy, contribution, contrivance, contriving, cooperation, cooperativeness, copartnership, copartnery, cotenancy, counterplot, covin, criminality, culpability, deep-laid plot, dirty hands, duet, duumvirate, ecumenicalism, ecumenicism, ecumenism, engagement, engineering, esprit, esprit de corps, fellow feeling, fellowship, finagling, finesse, frame-up, game, guilt, guiltiness, guilty conscience, harmony, having a part, impeachability, impeachableness, implication, inculpation, indictability, indictableness, intrigue, involvement, joining of forces, joint chairmanship, joint control, joint effort, joint operation, joint ownership, joint tenancy, little game, machination, maneuvering, manipulation, mass action, morale, mutual assistance, mutualism, mutuality, octet, onus, partaking, participation, partnership, peccancy, plot, plotting, pooling, pooling of resources, pulling together, quartet, quintet, reciprocity, red-handedness, reprehensibility, reproachableness, reprovability, reprovableness, rigging, scheme, schemery, scheming, septet, sextet, sharing, solidarity, stratagem, suffrage, symbiosis, synergism, synergy, team spirit, teamwork, trick, trio, triumvirate, troika, underplot, united action, voting, web of intrigue, wire-pulling
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