This is a fabulous novel that really stretches both the crime genre and the reader’s knowledge of the wonderful central character, Alan Banks. It is my favourite Inspector Banks novel to date (though I haven’t read them in order and thoroughly enjoyed gaining so much of Banks’ back story and discovering elements of his private life). This novel opens when a village that has lain beneath a reservoir for decades, Hobbs End, is exposed after a particularly dry season. Keen to explore the rotting ruins, a teenager stumbles upon some human bones. Banks, who has been assigned a desk job after falling into disfavor with his miserable and despicable boss, Jimmy Riddle, is sent to deal with what’s ostensibly a boring cold case. Also assigned is the young and feisty Annie Cabbot, another square peg in a constabulary round hole. Sparks fly when Banks and Cabbot meet and they start to learn the secrets the water has kept hidden for so long. suddenly, the cut and dry case from World War II becomes very interesting indeed.
Segueing between the present and the village Hobbs End pre its immersion, during World War II and the Americans presence at a nearby air base, and modern times and the investigation led by Banks, this is a terrific tale with rich and interesting characters in whom you invest. As the contemporary murder investigation unfolds, so too the older story unfurls from a kind of innocence and a desperate desire to start again to tragedy. Replete with marvellous historical details, from food, war rules and conditions, fashions, social and religious mores and cultural attitudes (and or course, the music – this is a Robinson story after all) the novel also explores Banks’ growing feelings for Annie, trying to deal with his divorce from Sandra, living alone again and the unexpected change in direction of his son, Brian.
As the novel builds towards the climax, the two main threads collide with surprising and very satisfying results. If you enjoy the Banks’ books, good crime novels or just a great read, then this is a book you’ll find hard to put down.