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The DCI Alan Banks novels written by Peter Robinson are a new obsession of mine; they are set in North Yorkshire in the fictional town of Eastdale and tell the travails of DCI Banks, a man in his Fifties who is divorced, intelligent, opera loving but with an edgier quality than the ubiquitous Morse.
As with all DCI Banks novels we start with the discovery of the body, only this time the novel begins in 1969 where a young girl is found in a sleeping bag at a rock concert. The girl had been stabbed and stuffed in the bag, the concert was the first in Yorkshire and the investigation is headed by a DCI Chadwick who is a WW2 veteran and rather straight-laced. Jump forward to 2005 and a music journalist Nick Barber is found dead in a holiday retreat so enter DCI Banks. The book moves from 1969 to 2005, not quite every chapter but regularly as both investigations gather speed; the sections covering the 1969 investigation tend to be first allowing for a retrospective analysis by Banks in 2005. The murders appear unconnected, however, the actions of a famous band the Matters seems to be the bridge between the them soon Banks is as much following the original investigation as covering the modern case.
The skill required for jumping between 1969 and 2005 takes some doing but the author manages to engage the reader in both areas. So we follow the psychedelic pop scene through the eyes of a Presbyterian hardnosed cop in Chadwick and the more moderate Banks who remembers his own teenage years in the 1960's. The actions of the Mad Hatters, the bad members, the house they produced their albums in and the death of the mysterious journalist soon weave a tale of sex, drugs and rock and roll.
The strengths of Peter Robinson are a well-constructed plot, well defined characters and a desire to let the story have its desired length so we don't have any books which feel cut down to size or too long to be feasible. Here we have a 450 page book which introduces the main characters early own and keeps switching between the 60's and modern day without losing the thread of story and character development.
Indeed the use of two main male leads is handled tactfully and cleverly, the exploration of 60's culture is of course for a man who grew up in the 60's but getting the correct police attitudes is a plaudit for the writer's research.
Finally there is the answer to the two murders, we follow the original investigation only so far before Banks finds out who was the guilty man but of course there are further secrets to be revealed. The secrets surrounded the original case are brought to a conclusion with the identity of the killer of the journalist.
This so far has been my favourite Banks novels, it certainly left the reader satisfied by the outcome of the investigations and there aren't any sudden discoveries at the end of the book which means couldn't have a decent stab at guessing the killer(s).
Hopefully, Peter Robinson will maintain this high standard of writing and we get more intricate, clever murder mysteries in the future.
Having started reading Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks books rather late, only a few years ago, I have nearly caught up. The books, their contents and the evolution of the characters is a far cry from the very first book, Gallow's View, published in the 80s and featuring no mod cons at all. In fact, it was a peeping tom case as opposed to the subsequent murder cases that Banks has been solving.
Now in the mid-Noughties, the books have evolved characters around Banks enough to give them some free rein, and this is exactly what Robinson does in Piece of My Heart. The book actually starts in 1969 at Brimleigh Festival in Yorkshire, where the body of a young girl is found in a sleeping bag, murdered, the morning after the festival. Detective Inspector Chadwick is a hard nosed no nonsense detective, and he leads the investigation, which soon leans towards being linked with the rock scene and the love and drugs that the young generation were more akin to in this era.
Meanwhile, back to the present, it's 2006 and a music journalist has been found murdered in the cottage he is letting while he does some investigations into The Mad Hatters, a band that was prominent in the 60s and 70s and with whom the journalist has personal ties. As Banks and his team dig deeper, the links between the two cases grow and become more and more definite, and The Mad Hatters are at the centre of it all.
Robinson's previous Banks book was excellent in all ways bar one - the supporting characters and how they were developed. However, the book was so good that it made no difference to my enjoyment of it. Here, though, the way he lets various characters other than Banks have the spotlight works marvellously, and it's only when the familiar and relaxed style featuring Banks slips back in that you remember it's all about him, essentially.
What's most impressive is the way that Robinson brings in Inspector Chadwick in the 69/70 investigation. It's clear from early on that the two cases are intertwined, and the author manages to develop both at the right pace in order to make sure that the information we need is not revealed to us too quickly to spoil things. The main thing I found enjoyable was that the characters all worked so well and that the padding was integrated expertly into the action, giving a solid tale that doesn't seem glossed over like many other crime thriller authors.
Development also includes giving Banks a new boss, a development that puts the cat firmly among the pigeons. It's almost as if Robinson is very sure to keep his main character on his toes, and this keeps it all interesting and believable. I love how the modern elements come into play, with Banks developing his main personal interests and embracing technology at the same time. It works very well and there's a sens of reality about it all.
The only thing I found slightly disappointing was the way the ending didn't have any major twists. I found the conclusion predictable, even if it was one of several predictable outcomes. This didn't stop it from being highly enjoyable and hard to put down, but his books usually have a good twists and this was noticeable lacking for once. Even so, this was a brilliant book - the flicking between the timelines was marvellous and beautifully timed, the prose flowed expertly and the character development here was made all the more stronger due to the previous book slightly lacking it. Great stuff. Can't wait for the next one!
I had heard of Peter Robinson before, I just had never thought of reading one of his books. However, at our book club at work this month there was a special offer of four of his books for £10.00. At that price I thought I can't really go wrong. So here is my first review from this author.
About this author:
Firstly I probably should point out this is not the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party but an accomplished international best selling crime author. Born and brought up in Yorkshire, he has lived for the past 25 years in North America. He is likened in writing style to Ian Rankin and he has written in total 18 novels of which 16 have been set around Chief Inspector Banks.
About this book:
The book begins with the discovery of a young girl's body in a sleeping bag at the open air Brimleigh festival in early September 1969. The Detective assigned to the case being the straight laced and reliable Stanley Chadwick. Who, was struggling to solve this case and keep his rebellious 16 year old daughter Yvonne on the straight and narrow, in a time of free love and drugs becoming the norm with the younger generation.
Many years later Inspector Banks is called in to investigate the murder of Nick Barber a freelance journalist in a remote village in Yorkshire. It transpired the murdered man was working on a new exciting feature on the band 'The Mad Hatters' and all the information he was collating from his notes and his laptop were stolen too.
Banks must now dig deep and try and examine what happened in 1969 and how this ties in if at all with his journalist's murder. Has there been a miscarriage of justice in the original investigation that was seemingly solved and closed all those years ago. Banks must use all the facilities at his disposal and try and solve the case.
My thoughts on the book:
I must be honest when I picked up this book I had few expectations. I just liked the sound of it. What I didn't expect was such an enjoyable and exciting read. As a result I totally recommend this crime novel as a fantastic read.
The storyline for the book was very interesting to me and although I have little knowledge of the late 1960's festival scene and found it totally absorbing. And this carried on throughout the book. The author did well to link both stories in a way that was understandable and interesting to the reader.
In some ways he could have written two separate stories about the Police investigations, but to give the author credit the story really flowed well and I found myself engrossed in it. I actually found the 1969 story more interesting until the links started to pull the two together. Maybe this was because that was such a time of change and so different from our lives today.
My only complaint and it is a minor one, was because the author did not separate the stories in any way I got a little confused as to which investigation they were talking about. Perhaps I should have concentrated better!! I just thought instead of a new paragraph he could have signposted it better with a new chapter ach time.
This is the 16th book to feature Chief Inspector Banks as the lead character and as such the author has developed his persona and characteristics to there fullest. As a result his mannerisms were not really explained or discussed. But they were not required as he was described in enough detail for any new reader to be able to understand and relate to him.
What I also liked about the book was it was not simply Bank's investigation. His junior officers and even his commanding officer were given enough character and personality as to be interesting and to see how they felt or reacted to any given situation. I thought this was excellent and very intelligent writing by the author as you got to learn the politics of the Police Station and the case itself.
I found the book compelling because of both the quality and depth of the story and the thought provoking and immaginative writting of the author. From the first page to the very last this novel is facinating, easy to get into and when you are you stay hooked until the end.
It was the kind of story I didn't want to end and when I had I felt satisfied on completion. I really enjoyed reading it and felt sad that I would probably not find as good a story for a while.
The book was quite a long one (530 pages), but I found I read it in no time at all. This was because it was easy to read, well written and so interesting. At no time was I bored and more importantly for a crime novel, at no time did I have a clue who the murderer was and why they did it.
Thanks to this excellent piece of fiction, I understand a little better the culture of the late 1960's and what an exciting and changing time it was.
I found this a very enjoyable and interesting book. As a result I have no hesitation in recommending it as a wonderful crime novel. People have compared Peter Robinson to Ian Rankin but for me on this form Robinson in a class above. I will definitely be reading more from this talented author.
Published by Hodder in 2006
Price: £6.99 new
Hope my review was interesting for you.
@CPTDANIELS January 2009
This review was also published under my name on Ciao.
In the summer of 1969, a young girl is found stabbed to death at a music festival; the force of the blow was so severe that it cut offa piece of her heart. Eventually a man is charged with her murder. Nearly forty years later, Chief Inspector Alan Banks is investigating the murder of a music journalist who was planning to write a piece about the life of a sixties pop star. As the investigation continues, it seems that there may be a link between the two murders. Was the right man charged with the murder of the girl back in 1969? Or is the killer still loose? And who killed the music journalist?
I have long been a fan of Peter Robinson's Alan Banks series, although the last two or three in the series haven't been quite as enjoyable. I therefore approached this one with trepidation. Experience with Patricia Cornwell and Karin Slaughter has taught me that writers sometimes run out of ideas, churning out one tedious book after another. Thankfully, this appears to be a return to form for Peter Robinson and I am looking forward to reading the next in the series, Friend of the Devil, and the eagerly awaited new release later this year.
Although I enjoy the stories, I have never really warmed to Alan Banks as a character. He isn't a particularly original character, having problems in maintaining relationships and being a bit fond of the sauce occasionally. However, what I find annoying about him is his smugness. I really get the impression when reading about him that he thinks he is right and that he is constantly being hard-done by. This is not helped by the constant reference to his musical tastes, which are mentioned all the time - I suspect that they coincide with the author's, but I am really not that interested. Thankfully, in this book, he seems to have calmed down a little bit and I was able to enjoy the story for what it is rather than be side-tracked by my dislike for Banks.
DI Annie Cabbot returns in this story. Although in the past, she and Banks have had an affair, that now seems to have settled into a platonic friendship, although there is the occasional hint that it may develop into something else in a future book. Annie is a likeable enough character. She is a tough cookie in some respects; certainly, in her job, she is determined and forward-looking. However, there is a tenderness underneath that comes through evey now and again, which makes her seem softer and more human.
The story is told in quite an interesting way, although it has been used in at least one previous Banks book - it skips between the investigation of the girl at the festival in 1969, and the modern day investigation. This is good in that the reader constantly has something to be occupied by. However, it does occasionally get confusing. The 1969 story is always prefaced by the date, so it is always clear that it is the girl's murder that is being dealt with. The modern day one though often follows directly after the 1969 one, with only a paragraph space in between the two. It isn't a major problem, I always worked it out quite quickly, but it could certainly have been made a bit clearer.
Although I wouldn't say that the investigation is the cleverest that I have ever read, I did think it was well done. The reader is given just enough information to be kept intrigued, but the key to the whole thing is kept back until right at the end, so although I am usually quite good at working out whodunnit, I wasn't right this time. I enjoyed reading about how Banks and Cabbot manage to slowly piece everything together; more importantly, I galloped through the book really quickly because I was so keen to find out what happened next, even though it is quite a long book at over 500 pages.
Although I don't enjoy the references to Banks' personal taste in music, I did enjoy reading about the summer of love, the fashions and tastes of the time, and the ins and outs of a rock band. I was born in 1969, so am always interested in reading about it, and although the rock band in the story is fictitious, Robinson has clearly done his research - of course, he would probably have remembered a lot of it first-hand.
I am really glad to see Robinson back on form. He has a good story here and he tells it well. I have been jaded by crime fiction recently - I've read too much of it to be easily impressed - but this grabbed me from the beginning and all the way through. It isn't that important to read the series in order, although it may make more sense to do so if you want to follow Banks' story. However, whether you are a newcomer to the series or an old-hand, I highly recommend this book.
The book is available from play.com for £6.49. Published by Hodder and Stoughton, it has 544 pages. ISBN: 9780340836880