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I have been on a bit of a rollercoaster with Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks series. There is something very much akin to Rankin's Rebus in the series, with the downbeat police Inspector who is a bit of a rebel at times, always in trouble with his superiors and harbouring a bit of a dark streak beneath the approachable exterior. No doubt the books will attract a bit more of a wider audience now with the TV series entitled Inspector Banks, with the first episode, 'Aftermath', being a later book than this one.
I was nervous and hopeful that Robinson would at some point take a different track and approach with Banks, and was made even more nervous when I started to read this book. We start off with a boy randomly coming across a human bone when a village that was underwater is drained dry. Thus launches a decades old mystery that Banks is sent off to investigate as punishment from his superior. Naturally, it becomes more than just an identification issue when Banks soon realises that he hasn't just got a murder to solve, but one that happened before he was alive!
What you don't get immediately is how Robinson is going to establish various new things happening in Banks' life. If you haven't read the books before, then it's probably worth reading them in order, as there is a strong running story regarding Banks' personal life. If you haven't read the previous books, then a couple of the development elements I'll mention may mention things you haven't experienced yet. Either way, to start with you get the impression that it's just going to be another foray into Banks' tumultuous personal life and another murder to investigate.
I nearly put the book down, but I'm very glad I didn't, for it wasn't long before Banks split his style in half and went down a completely different road, choosing to include excerpts from a diary written all those years ago, and thus giving us as readers the story in two varying parts. As the story progresses and develops, we get the facts partly through the events unrolling in the present day, and partly through the diary.
I really liked this newer style of writing from Robinson, and there was a definite difference between the two stories, not just in terms of how the story unfolded, but also in the writing, and this is a very hard thing to do. Robinson has a distinct style, but has managed to write as a completely different person for half of the book, and it flows very well. The result was that not only can you not really see where things are going, who the deceased is (for definite), who could have done it, but also the various little details that appear in one style then appear in the other through various different degrees of relevance.
This cross combination is what makes the book a pleasure to read, but it's the subtleties it encompasses as well. The characters are very well developed, and Robinson introduces new characters that you get the feeling are going to stick around for a while. One of them is Annie Cabot, a new policewoman who accompanies Banks for the investigation. I think it was about time that something new happened, and moving things towards a new direction here has worked. There's a geographical move, too, with the investigation actually taking part far enough away from Banks' Yorkshire hideaway to make things fresh, but not so far that everything is new. There are some returning roles for characters that show Robinson doesn't feel the need to completely reinvent the saga, and I liked this as well.
Sadly, though, it wasn't all roses for me. Yes, I loved the story, and the characters, and the style of bringing two different narrators, if you like, but once more with a Banks book I felt let down by the end of the book. It all just finished too quickly, and petered out a lot quicker than the pace of the book needed. I would have preferred a more languid conclusion, and although a couple of twists are very memorable, the pace was just too wrong at the end for me.
It didn't completely ruin the story for me, and I do retain the memory of the actual tale itself, so I still highly recommend reading this. It picks things up and runs with them in a slightly different direction to the previous Banks books, and I think this was sorely needed. I have very nearly given up with this series, but perseverance has paid off as far as I'm concerned. If he can get the endings sorted, then bigger and better things are bound to be on the literary horizon. The book is now a deaced or so old, and a few more have been written and published since. I look forward to reading them. Recommended.
During a drought, a local reservoir dries out, and a boy, playing a fantasy game amongst the ruins that have been revealed, finds the skeleton of an apparently murdered woman. Investigation proves that, as the ruined village was flooded in the fifties, that the body must have laid there for some tens of years. Once again in the bad books of his boss, Detective Inspector Alan Banks is given the case as a punishment - after all this time, what are the chances of bringing the perpetrator to justice? But Banks, newly separated, takes the bit between the teeth and is determined not to fail. With new sidekick, Detective Sergeant Annie Cabbot, in tow, Banks delves into the past, and discovers that the truth is not so difficult to discover after all.
Four or five years ago, I was a huge fan of Peter Robinson's work, and read my way through most of it. However, more recently, I have avoided his novels for one reason only - I dislike the main character, Alan Banks. I am not entirely sure why. He reminds me a little of Rebus - his relationships are always doomed to failure and he enjoys a bevvy or twenty - and he is a maverick, preferring to work alone or with trused colleagues. Banks began the series as a happily married man with two children; in this book, he is already separated, albeit unwillingly, and is struggling to start up a new life. All this should make me feel sorry for him, yet I don't. I find Banks slightly annoying, a bit too clever for his own good and too willing to feel sorry for himself. I much prefer the parts of the book that concentrate on the investigation rather than Banks' private life. I particularly disliked the descriptions of Banks' burgeoning relationship with Annie Cabbot - too much information as far as I am concerned.
With regard to the story, this is definitely one of Peter Robinson's stronger novels - this one is number fourteen in the series. I adore stories that involve murders that happened many years before - I think it is because of the barriers that time presents to the detectives, making it that much more difficult to prove anything. Unfortunately, I did find myself making comparisons with another book - On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill - because this is also based around a village flooded to make a reservoir and age-old murders. That is where the similarities end, but On Beulah Height is one of my favourite all-time novels and In a Dry Season doesn't quite reach its high standards. However, it is still a good story and anyone who hasn't read On Beulah Height will be none the worse off.
The story is well told, all the more so because we are given two angles; the first is Banks' investigation and his interviews, the second is in the form of a narrative by the sister-in-law of the woman who was murdered. Told in alternate chapters, this means that the reader knows a little more about the crime than Banks does, and it is fascinating waiting for Banks to come to the same conclusion as the reader. What is particularly clever about this way of telling the story is the way that certain facts are kept back, so that the reader doesn't know the complete truth until very close to the end of the novel.
The ending, when it comes, is quite a surprise. I knew that there was going to be a twist in the tale, but I wasn't able to guess what it was. However, it is rather far-fetched. Banks, of course, manages to work out something that even the person closest to the murdered woman didn't know. His jumping to conclusions and firm belief in his discovery of the truth (without concrete evidence) annoyed me and spoiled what was otherwise a really strong story. However, I am probably being picky here because of my dislike for Banks - most writers of crime fiction use similar methods to tie up loose ends.
I like the way that Peter Robinson writes. His words hang together well, which makes me feel as if I am reading a proper novel rather than a piece of trash. Robinson is particularly good at descriptive prose when writing about the surroundings Banks and Cabbot find themselves in - I really felt as if I was in the village in which the murdered woman was found. As the story of the murdered woman occurred during the Second World War, we are told a lot about life during wartime - GIs, silk stockings, black market cigarettes and black-outs - all a very interesting read, without seeming like padding. The book may seem rather long at 464 pages, but the pages are small and the story is well laid out, which makes it much quicker to read than you may expect.
On the whole, this is a good novel and the comparison with Reginald Hill's On Beulah Height and my dislike of Banks should not detract from this. I think any fan of crime fiction will enjoy this, whether or not you have read any of Robinson's previous work - the story of Banks' sorry life is easy to catch up on. Recommended.
The book is available from Amazon for £5.49. Published by Pan Books, it has 464 pages. ISBN-10: 0330392018