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After four successful outings, popular fictional policeman Inspector Banks is back investigating a new case. When a woman is found naked and murdered in her own home, Banks and his team investigate. This time, though, Banks' problem is not so much a lack of suspects but too many of them. The more Banks digs into the murdered woman's past, the more he realises how many secrets she was hiding and how many people had a motive to want her dead.
The success of the Banks books lies not in the fact that they are clever and complex, but that they are so readable. The things that make most modern detective fiction interesting - twisted serial killers, detectives with issues, cat and mouse games between cop and criminal - are completely absent from Past Reason Hated. It is a simple murder mystery. Someone has been killed, Banks and his team have to work out who did it and why. That's it. The pages are not littered with corpses, there are no thrilling rooftop chases and the killer does not leave clues to taunt the police.
In fact, you could argue that Past Reason Hated (in common with all Banks books) is rather staid and slow paced; boring even (certainly some people have accused it of that.) The truth is that it is probably a damn sight more accurate and reflective of real police work. Banks appears to do little but wander around slightly aimlessly, asking questions and occasionally deliberately winding people up to see how they react. He spends a lot of time thinking about all the stuff he has heard and trying to see if any of the pieces fit together.
This should be boring, so it's credit to Peter Robinson that he makes it so readable. The appeal of Past Reason Hated lies precisely in the fact that it is not clever or complex; and I don't mean that as an insult to Robinson's plotting skills. Because he tells the story so well, there is no need to adopt the breathless pace favoured by modern detective authors, no need to have a murder committed every other page.
Past Reason Hated might only feature one murder, committed at the very start of the book, but it's enough. Robinson uses this one event to present a fascinating tale of the duplicitousness of humanity. By slowly drip-feeding information to the reader, he keeps you interested. Dead ends and red herrings are intriguing rather than frustrating.
Like the book itself, there's nothing particularly clever or fancy about Robinson's style: just good writing that tells the story as simply as possible. Characters feel realistic, reacting in predictable ways to being questioned by Banks; Banks himself makes for a sympathetic lead and you fully appreciate his frustrations at the brick walls he keeps encountering. Robinson's easy, fluid style makes Banks' world real and believable. Past Reason Hated might not take very long to read, but you'll enjoy every minute of it.
The nice thing about the Banks books is that although there are recurring characters, you don't need to have read earlier books to enjoy this one. Yes, it will help, and some bits will make more sense (there are passing references to earlier characters or previous plotlines), but it's not essential. If you just want to read this one as a standalone book, you can do so.
Criticisms are pretty much the same as those levelled against previous Banks books. It has dated slightly (the book was originally written in the late 80s/early 90s), particularly where there are references to specific past (real) events or descriptions of houses, people or places. There is an element to which Banks' world can now be viewed as "quaint". There are virtually no computers, for example, and all police work has to be done by good old-fashioned legwork. It is, however, a fair reflection of the nature of police work at the time the book was written.
The other criticism is both the obsession with alcohol. You lose count of the times Banks visits the pub for a pint, has a drink with various characters or otherwise drinks whilst on the job. It does become slightly tiresome, and you can't help think that he might solve the murder a little more quickly if he didn't spend half his time in the pub chatting over a pint.
The other criticism surrounds the sub-plot relating to vandalism. This never quite rang true for me, coming across as something that was necessary for the resolution of the murder, rather than being particularly interesting or convincing in its own right. Indeed, it is ignored for large parts of the book and only returned to when essential, which makes it more of a distraction, rather than a real sub-plot.
Past Reason Hated gives you everything you would expect from a Peter Robinson/Inspector Banks novel: a murder mystery that is well told and interesting with a slow burning pace that nevertheless holds your interest. Put simply, if you have read and enjoyed previous Banks novels there is no reason to assume you won't like this. If you have read earlier books and found them too slow-paced, there's nothing here to change your mind.
Past Reason Hated
Pan New Edition, 2002
© Copyright SWSt 2013
Past Reason Hated is Peter Robinson's 5th Inspector Banks novel. The author first came onot the scene in the late 1980s with the mystery of a peeping tom harrassing the quiet Yorkshire community of Eastvale, with the recently posted Banks taking charge of his first major investigation in the area. The ensuing books gave Banks a bit more to sink his teeth into, with a murder in each of the 3 successive books.
Past Reason Hated also involves a murder, but it also combines this with more excellent characterisation and development as he jiggles everything around a bit. On 22nd December, a grisly murder scene is discovered, the victim in her armchair at home, music playing and the murder weapon missing. All thoughts of suicide are thrown away immediately and witness statements and other enquiries reveal a pattern of events thatg just doesn't fit together.
Everyone appears to be a suspect, making Banks' job harder, and as events in the main characters' personal lives keep changing, Robinson gives us a very cleverly worked twisting plot. What I admire about his books the more I read of them is his apparent ability to put himself in the reader's shoes and see what inferences we get from each and every sentence. I have to admit, my mind went through a number of possibilities and, just when I thought I had sussed it out, along come Robinson with proof to the contrary.
As with his other books, Past Reason Hated takes a while to get going. Robinson builds his stories up, which sort of work for me in a way, but is in complete contrast to authors such as James Patterson who throw you straight into the plot without any buildup whatsoever - both are effective ways of intriguing the reader. Another subtle change to the plot structure come with a little appreciation for those who have previously read his books. Robinson manages to create a little deviation in the plot by taking Banks to London, his old stomping ground as a policeman, in conjunction with the current murder enquiry. What this does is provide a little change of scenery and give the book a little something to make it more interesting and widen the scope of possibility, in particular for future Banks books.
The book is longer than his previous publications, coming in just short of 400 pages, but this is more than welcome as the events are somehow more detailed and more avenues open than previous Banks books. Also, in very welcome circumstances for me, the book does not finish abruptly as some of his do. This, for me, spoils books a little, but the fact that Past Reason Hated has an element of an epilogue at the end makes it that more of an enjoyable read, and softens the ending, giving a feeling of closure, that the story is done and dusted, something which was distinctly lacking in some of his other books.
Other developments in the book was the introduction of a new addition to the police force, Detective Constable Susan Gay. It is nice to see the addition of a female on Banks' team, and she is introduced by Robinson centring some of the story around her - she is quite integral to the plot. Add to this the further character development of Superintendent Gristhorpe and Banks's experienced staff, and we genuinely have a series of books that is going somewhere, developing its characters and its plotlines to promote further intrigue and enjoyment from its readers.
Past Reason Hated retails at £6.99, although I managed to pick up a copy for £2 in a charity shop, so it's worth surfing the internet or having a look in charity shops for cheaper than the retail price if you're not to fussed on having it brand new.