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Innocent Graves is the 8th book in Peter Robinson's series featuring Inspector Alan Banks, the Southern detective relocated to the Yorkshire town of Eastvale. Through the series, each book has featured an individual crime, much in the way most continuing detective series do, and the regular features are present with Robinson's writing as well.
Each book seems to get slightly darker in terms of the nature of the crime, with the first starting out as a peeping tom, and now we have here a suspected sex crime featuring a girl in her late teens, the body found in a church graveyard of all places. Robinson wastes no time in giving us the crime straight off, with a rather dramatic body discovery, and a swift introduction to some of the more familiar characters who have appeared in the books already.
Banks is the main character, and although we have seen a lot of development in previous books, this one doesn't really take him any further. I was looking forward to great things from Robinson, as his last book really saw a darker and somewhat violent side to Banks that I thought was startling and exciting characterisation compared to the previous efforts. However, my anticipation was shortlived upon reading this. Banks seems merely the central pivot here, giving some of the other characters a chance to develop a bit more.
I suppose this makes sense, in a way, and other police officers such as DC Susan Gay and the stereotypically gruff and Northern Jim Hatchley get a chance to shine a bit more. We add into the mix DI Barry Stott (I keep wanting to scream Cillit Bang and Barry Scott at the book!) who is a by the book detective in complete contrast to Hatchley - a great pairing indeed.
There are a few other recurring characters, such as the Chief Super and Banks' immediate superior, both of whom add quite well to the plot, and we see clever interweaving between the police and the various people who crop during the investigation into the murder. Perhaps most dominant here is the man suspected of the crime from very early on. Robinson takes a bit of a leaf out of John Grisham's book as he gives us a few courtroom scenes, before making it even more of a mystery by throwing a few spanners into the works. There are a couple of nice twists here, for sure.
The book is definitely more about the characters than anything else, though, and at times I was willing a bit more plot development as opposed to the court system and the players in and around it hogging all of the writer's pen, so to speak. The book does flow very nicely, and the development, where present, certainly does seem to have been done with a great deal of research from Robinson's point of view. There's just not enough of it in the story.
As a result, the ending, which should be rather dramatic, seems to pale into a bit of an anticlimax. Character lines that were focused on early, then revisited halfway through and developed a bit more second time round seemed to just peter out somewhat and come to nothing, and this happens more than once. Perhaps this was done with multiple strands of characters in order to keep the reader, but its result was a disappointing one for me. Perhaps it would be a good idea to see some of these return in later books, although I have a sneaking suspicion this won't be happening.
I liked the sort of interlude in the middle where we had a few chapters of intense courtroom descriptions. Robinson did this very well, and although it doesn't quite live up to Grisham's level of expertise and description, it's nice to see a bit of variety as opposed to the traditional detective novel coming through. This also happens with the character and his surroundings, as Robinson attempts to get a good feeling of Eastvale and Yorkshire in general. I found in previous books, nearby Leeds was well involved in the stories, and although it's a revisited location in this tale, the recurring element of strong leanings towards characterisation meant that the surroundings were skimmed over slightly. One author who is very good at balancing the elements of the story is Ian Rankin, and although you can see glimmers of effort to recreate another Rebus in Banks, and another Edinburgh in Eastvale, Robinson doesn't quite live up to the Scottish author's ability to do so.
I think that Peter Robinson will continue to be compared to authors whose styles he edges along. Grisham and Rankin stuck out here for me, although Robinson's detailed characterisation is done with smooth flow of words to make it interesting enough. There were some plot based stutters, and I was very disappointed by the anticlimactic conclusion, but it's still a book I can recommend reading. I shall persevere with the series, as I like the characters and the books, and I really want to see that dark side of Banks develop. However, the next one is a few down my extensive list of books to read, and I'm not hungering for it quite just yet.