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 sometimes, 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.