Careless Love by Peter Robinson

I have been a huge fan of Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks novels, relishing each new arrival, reading them quickly and then being so disappointed when I finish and have to wait for another one. Careless Love was no different… to start with. I gulped it down but, rather than eagerly awaiting the next instalment, I am left feeling a wee bit short-changed.

Let me explain why.

The crime is set up early in the novel – a young student is found dead in an abandoned car. It becomes evident that her body has been deliberately placed here as she didn’t drive and certainly didn’t own the car. A bit further along, a successful businessman is found dead at the bottom of an incline, apparently from a fall. Pretty soon, the inconsistencies in the two cases start to show some commonalities, as does yet another death. Add to this information Zelda, Annie’s father’s new partner gives to Banks and Annie one night, about the man who tried to murder Banks a few books ago, and the team is on the case – all of them.

So, it starts off so promising and then…it isn’t so much. Don’t get me wrong, the writing is tight, as one would expect from someone so practiced in their craft. Banks and Annie are mostly true to form, except, in what appears to be a bit of self-indulgence, Robinson has Banks bang on and on and on about his music – and when it doesn’t really fit the narrative and most certainly holds it up. In the past, it was sort of funny and quirky, Banks’s ad hoc musical references and preferences for certain types of (to most of us) obscure jazz and other artists. In this book, it interferes with and interrupts the narrative to the point of distraction. Further, Banks has also taken it upon himself to become familiar with poetry. OK. Poetry can function as a great analogy to the action of the novel, as a metaphor, or prolepsis… only, no. Not here. All the references to it do nothing to serve the story. Music and poetry, both of which show Banks to be sophisticated, I guess, do nothing except become great ellipses in terms of the narrative and overall action. Then there’s the fact a great deal of the book is taken up with interviews that go absolutely nowhere. I was left wondering where my beloved, feisty and clever Banks had disappeared to. It doesn’t help that he develops what’s tantamount to a pervy, middle-aged crush on one of the suspects that is both grating and borders on inappropriate. As a consequence of all this, I found this instalment to fall well short of expectations.

So, sadly, unlike previous books, I cannot make a song and dance about this one – not when Banks does that in almost every scene he appears. Well, makes a song of it, anyhow.

Nonetheless, I am looking forward to the next book in the hope that what Zelda has uncovered is explored, sans the unnecessary poetry and most of the musical references.

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Book Review: Watching the Dark by Peter Robinson

I have read quite a few Inspector Banks novels by Peter Robinson and though I’ve read them out of order (Which is fine to do) I’ve grown very fond of the ethical, gruff and clever DCI Banks and have read enough to be both rewarded and frustrated by where he’s at professionally and personally now – as I’m sure Robinson intends.

Watching the Dark is the twentieth book in the Banks series and in this novel we find the intrepid inspector investigating the murder of a convalescing peer, DI Bill Quinn, a man recently widowed and who, for some reason, never quite recovered from not being able to solve a case from six years ago about a young English woman who went missing in Estonia. When Quinn is found dead with a crossbow in his chest, and compromising photos are found in his room, Professional Standards in the form of the lovely Joanna Passero arrives to partner an irascible Banks on the case.

Not long after Passero is assigned, another man, who appears to be an illegal European immigrant, is also found murdered. Connections between Quinn and this man and the cold case of the young woman start to emerge. It’s at that point that Banks understands he has to travel to Estonia and perhaps solve an old case in order to bring the current one to a close and find the killer. Given permission to travel overseas, he is furious and frustrated to discover that Passero is to accompany him. Able to get under his skin, it’s not sparks that fly so much as hair and teeth when Passero and Banks are forced to work closely together.

Added to this is the fact that Banks’ old partner, Annie, who has also just come out of extended convalescence, has returned to work. Determined to find form and fast, Annie refuses the favours offered by Banks and their boss, except where it means being treated as a fully-functioning member of the team. Throwing herself back into her job, she’s forced to confront her fears and memories and finds, once she becomes heavily involved in the case that the professional can be and is personal as well.

Nothing and no-one is as they seem in this case and the further Banks and Annie delve, the darker and deeper they’re drawn into the shady world of prostitution, illegal immigrants and drugs and the cruelty that other humans can and do inflict upon each other…

I find the more I read these books and love them, the more uneven they can be as well. Robinson has a fabulous way of bringing the characters to life on the page but sometimes, just sometimWatching The Dark by Peter Robinsones, their actions don’t always ring quite true and seem to solve a particular narrative purpose rather than be part of their motivation. For me, one example here, was the relationship between Passaro and Banks. While initially we understood that Banks was annoyed and felt hobbled by the presence of someone from Professional Standards, when he and Passaro have it out and, in his own mind he acknowledges that his beloved Annie also worked for that section and she’s not tainted, past novels tell us that Banks would have moved on and work at building the professional relationship with Passero. In this novel, it doesn’t happen and Banks’ attitude to Passero, particularly when they’re in Estonia and he reverts back to resentment, galled a bit. Banks is not a misogynist though, typical of his generation, he struggles sometimes with women and what they want, but he has always been respectful and appreciative of what they bring to their professional roles and the workplace – this is proven with Annie. With Passero, he becomes, as Winsome accuses him at one stage, childish. But then again, I also put this behaviour down to a growing sexual attraction that he might feel for Passero and the emotional toing and froing that can cause. Likewise, after Passero unloads to Banks about her personal life, the door is open down the track for romance, so perhaps my comments are unfair and this is what Robinson was setting up; but there were times in their relationship at least that the Banks we’ve grown to know and I guess rely on to be stable was not and that was disconcerting. Love might explain a great deal, however J

Robinson also explores the seamy and seedy side of the underworld with ease, introducing characters you hope you never meet on a dark night. While at the same time, he also manages to bring the beauty of Estonia to life, the novel sometimes reading like a travel book, but as seen through Alan Banks’ eyes – not a bad way to view another country and culture.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book as I have the other Banks in the series and will look forward to trawling back and discovering more of his life and cases and fleshing out the holes that currently exist in my knowledge of DCI Banks.

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Book Review: Aftermath, Peter Robinson

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.

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