A friend of mine has long been recommending Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks novels and for some inexplicable reason, I resisted reading them until I stumbled upon an episode of the TV series and thoroughly enjoyed it. After that, I picked up Aftermath and was unable to put it down. About halfway through, I became aware that this novel was in fact the prequel to the one episode of the TV series I’d watched and I knew who the murderer was. Such is the strength of the gruesome yet believable tale of sexual, physical and psychological abuse and its aftermath – how people cope differently with the horrors that life can throw at them and how they identify as either victims or survivors and what behaviors they adopt to cope – that knowing the killer didn’t detract from the tale at all. On the contrary, it added a particular frisson.
The novel opens with a dark and simply awful prologue. You just know as a reader that the understated cruelty and fear aroused in those brief pages is going to explode into the body of the tale… And it does. Skip ahead a decade and to a housing area known as The Hill. Two constables are called to attend a domestic dispute and arrive with reluctance, never expecting that opening the front door of the residence will unleash a rabid and terrible history and too many skeletons – quite literally. Told from the point of view of a female probationary copper, the scene moves quickly into full scale action and tragedy. I was left breathless and appalled. Cut to the investigation and DCI Banks, replete with his unravelling love life, appears to solve this case which is quickly linked to a rapist and suspected murderer dubbed The Chameleon who has been around for a number of years. Drawn into the shocking crimes that are uncovered are residents, friends, family, the media and even the policewoman who made the initial discovery – only instead of being hailed a hero, she is placed under investigation herself. From the outset, along with Banks and his team, you’re questioning who are the victims? Who are the perpetrators? And is it always so clear cut?
This is a violent tale and isn’t for the faint-hearted, but it’s also a fascinating portrayal of violence, sex and gender with sympathetic and monstrous portraits of specific individuals being drawn, offering contrasting and fascinating insights into the cycle of child, sexual and domestic abuse – victims, perpetrators and those who purport to help, support, report and even prevent it happening being offered and held up to close scrutiny. Robinson is brutal at times and gentle at others, but the story is harrowing and yet so well-written you’re drawn into it despite yourself.
I have subsequently watched a couple more episodes of the TV series and loved them, but it’s more of Robinson’s books that I am really looking forward to getting into.