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By the 9th book in a series, you'd expect to feel comfortable with the main regular characters and also recognise a writing style and know what to expect in terms of format and general feeling when reading the book. Dead Right is the 9th book in Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks books, and while I have felt a bit of anticlimactic endings from a few of his previous books, things start to happen quite a bit in this book.
To start with, Robinson's subject matter is very confident, albeit a controversial and hard one to write about: racism. Robinson brings in a plot that sinks right to the heart of racism in this country and pulls out all of the stereotypes in developing it alongside a murder investigation. When Jason Fox is found dead, Banks and his fellow detectives are pretty sure it's going to be a quick case, but when this is suspected a mere 20 pages into a 350 page murder mystery, you know you're in for a few twists and turns here and there.
We quickly find out that Fox was an important member of a the Albion League, a white power organisation, and was seen earlier that night having an altercation with some Pakistani youths. An open and shut case? Of course not, and this is where Robinson decides to start playing around with Banks' rather mundane and regular life, both in and out of work. The results, I have to say, are rather impressive, and give the character a bit of grit and edginess.
A few books ago, Robinson attempted to bring out a darker and grittier side of Banks, to make him seem a bit more of a dangerous character. The 8th book didn't really develop this very much, but he has taken it back up again with this one, getting him to jet off to Amsterdam, have an altercation with his superiors and giving him a few problems at home to boot. All of it is done in quite a progressive way, and is interwoven in very well with the plot, allowing the flow of the story to be very smooth and enjoyable indeed. I was very impressed with the character development here.
At the same time, Robinson seems to have settled on DC Susan Gay becoming a sort of reliable sidekick to Banks, almost like Ian Rankin did with Siobhan Clarke and Inspector Rebus in his somewhat more celebrated series of books. Gay has been slowly and tentatively developed over the course of the past 5 books, but here Robinson seems to let go and get her to have a bit more of a meatier sideline in terms of plot and character development. Robinson uses both characters in developing the main murder plotline, and they combine well with the other characters, particularly villains such as white power leader Neville Mutcombe and Banks' old adversary on the force, Dirty Dick Burgess, now a high flyer at Scotland Yard.
So, how does Banks deal with the social issues brought to the fore in this book? Well, what I like about his books is that there's never any pandering and unnecessary scene setting - he launches straight into a plot. Here, there's no cloak and dagger when it comes to the main focus of his social discussion this time round - racism is brought up very early on. As the story develops, so do the theories and racist elements of the police's enquiries. For the most part, things hold up well and things flow, but there are times when things are a bit far fetched, and there are a few plot holes where there is supposition and people just 'happen' to assume the truth with complete disregard for a hundred other possibilities. At other times, you feel that low efficiency in plot development reveals glaring truths that the usually astute police officers don't pick up on - it's inconsistent, and prevents things from being as good with the racist element of the plot as the characterisation is in this one.
But this doesn't mean that I was disappointed - far from it. In fact, the moment I finished this one, I picked up the next, In A Dry Season, not so much fussed about a new plot, but more about some further development of how the characters are continuing. Robinson is getting around to producing an extremely enticing network of characters, and this ultimately makes his books more appealing. The characters are stronger than the plot in this one, despite some cleverly woven plot twists and turns along the way, and it makes you want to keep reading not just the book, but the series as well.
The 9th book in the series is a very good one. There's nothing stopping you from reading this as a stand alone novel, without having read the books before. Naturally, it helps, especially with the characters, but I wouldn't say it's essential, as any relevances are explained in enough detail had you not read the previous books. Dead Right is a flowing book to read, and despite the occasional inconsistency, I was very impressed with the overall presentation. Recommended.