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It's fair to say that for me Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks series has had its highs and lows. Robinson has developed his no nonsense policeman with skill throughout, and the development of other characters as well as the surroundings has made things very familiar and needing little or no introduction to them. Despite this, he still gives a somewhat gentle recap of who's who, where we are, and the relevance of Banks' personal and professional history on occasion throughout each book, aware that not everyone will start from the beginning and work their way through the series chronologically.
For those who have started at the beginning and carried on through, there has been little mention of Banks' parents and brother. His folks have come into tales a little more often over the books previous to this, particularly when one case bore relevance to his childhood, but other than a few flippant comments about Banks not getting along with his brother Roy, the sibling hasn't played a part. So, when Banks gets a frantic and urgent message from Roy asking for his help, it's a rather curious thing, and one that intrigued me from the moment I read the blurb. I like it when the personal element creeps into tales, and this promised to give Banks another edge to him, and open up the reasons for their estranged relationship.
At the same time as Banks is on his way to London to see his brother, the body of a woman is found at the roadside still in her car. She has been shot, but when Banks' hastily scribbled address is found in her pocket and Banks himself is nowhere to be found. Soon on, the two storylines promise to link together, especially when Banks finds that Roy has mysteriously disappeared and his flat has been searched. Never one to shy away from something like this, and now with a personal reason for finding out what's going on, he starts up an investigation of his own and tries to find out what's going on, while Detective Inspector Annie Cabot and the rest of the team back in the Yorkshire town of Eastvale try to follow the leads for the dead woman and find their boss.
Robinson had the opportunity here to dangle the carrot quite a few times and give us plenty of juicy ideas on what is going on. The book starts off very strongly, the first 100 pages or so doing a very nice job scene setting and also making it hard to put the book down. From then on, though, it felt as if it was just a case of going through the motions. The usual twists and surprises were not so prominent and effective as usual, and the impact the book had on me was a lot less than his previous novels. Banks as a lead character did nothing special, and the usual exploration into his psyche made it seem as if Robinson was just going through the motions as opposed to trying to give us something to get our teeth into.
There's a deeper and more general political statement in here, and immigration and the underground scene plays a large part in the proceedings. Reading it, I wasn't shocked or surprised by any revelation that the book brought on, and thought that a lot of it was rather telegraphed and obvious. As opposed to the usual instant hit of surprise, everything had a slow buildup before we found out anything, leaving nothing to chance and surprise. It's a safe piece of work, I suppose, but when you're used to Robinson throwing you a curve ball at least a couple of times throughout a book, making things so obvious just seemed so out of synch.
The other disappointment was the pace. The first 100 pages or so set the scene quite nicely, but that's kind of where it needed to stop. Instead, the scene continued to be set, with slow forming events and introduction of characters coming much later and rendering large chunks of the plot rather unimportant. Indeed, about 150 pages or so could easily have been cut out and the book would still have the same impact. In fact, it might have been more exhilarating as a shorter offering. I just thought that this seemed so out of synch with Robinson's usual mystery and intrigue and suspense that it didn't work and left me with a sense of disappointment more than anything else.
The one saving grace is the writing style. The words do flow effortlessly and smoothly, and there are moments when you find it hard to put the book down. However, as the book went on and the desire for a bit more excitement increased to an agonising point, even the style couldn't hold things together. By the time the conclusion comes and everything is revealed, I was more glad to be finished than keen to reach for the next one. I longed for the simpler twists and turns of a regular Eastvale murder with suspects and investigation. I wasn't too fond of Banks operating on a personal level and the story switching from London to Eastvale and stretching things out a bit too thin. I hope the next in the series reverts back to type at least a little bit. I know I wanted something a little different, but a bit of excitement and less predictability wouldn't go amiss. Not so good, this one.
This is the second of the Peter Robinson books I bought recently 4 for £10.00.I really enjoyed the first and I was advised in the similarities in the work of Robinson and Ian Rankin. So I was keen to look at this and compare their books in style and quality.
About the author:
Peter Robinson has written 20 novels, since his first successful novel published in 1987. He has been awarded the 'Dagger in the Library' by the CWA in 2002 for his novel "The Summer that never was". Since then he was won numerous awards and his popularity is such that his latest one reached number 1 in the Sunday Times bestselling list.
About the book:
An urgent message left on Inspector Alan Banks' mobile phone from his brother Roy saying it is a matter of life and death leaves Banks worried and concerned. He has never been close to his brother but now he sounds like he's in trouble. As Alan is unable to get hold of him on the phone he drives down from Yorkshire to London to see what the call is all about.
Meanwhile back in Yorkshire the body of a young lady Jennifer Clewes is found in her car with a bullet in her head. When the investigation begins in the dead ladies back pocket Alan Banks' address is discovered. So DI Cabbot checks what turns out to be his old address and finds the place had been broken into and Inspector Banks no-where to be found.
The Strange Affair begins. As Alan seeks to find his troubled brother in London, while 'his team' try and find the murderer in Yorkshire. Alan must try and learn and understand all about his brother's life to find him and solve the mystery. But how and why can these two very different investigations be linked?
My thoughts on the book:
I am very pleased to report I thoroughly enjoyed my second Robinson novel. For me it was interesting and exciting but not additive. I always felt the book was heading somewhere but at quite a slow and deliberate pace.
For me the best part of the book is the way the author brilliantly keeps both stories on track and the reader completely engrossed in both situations without seemingly much effort. You always felt the two were related but through quality writing and an excellent imagination of the author you are never quite sure why and you start to look for these links that in many cases do not appear.
Both stories were really well planned and written without being too different or earth shattering from anything I have read before. With the author cleverly using clues and red herrings to develop the story and the reader's interest in the investigation. For me it was not until the final few chapters that I knew why the crimes had been committed and why they had taken place and of cause by whom.
The final few chapters were the most exciting as the authorities sort to discover the truth. The pace increased and the pages really started to turn on their own. It was a bit of a shame the whole book did not move like that. But on the positive side the author had set the scene well enough for an exciting conclusion to the novel.
I found the main characters in the book interesting. The relationship or lack of it between Alan and Ray Banks was fascinating. The way that through his disappearance he was beginning to get to know his brother and his life at long last was very well described. As a lead character Inspector Banks is to me a typical crime detective, slightly unorthodox, goes with his 'gut feeling' not by the book, moody, likeable, misunderstood and dedicated to finding the truth. I guess those are qualities that most can relate to or understand and why he is a popular character for readers.
However, the book is certainly not just about him. And I did like the way throughout the book you get to know and understand Banks team back in Yorkshire. From the Junior Officers to his Detective Inspector, you learn through quality writing about their personalities, issues and relationships with each other. This is something I always enjoy in books, the interplay between these characters.
The author's style of writing is pleasing on the eye with good descriptions and excellent setting of any scene. He writes in a simple uncomplicated by effective manner, which leaves some of his ideas open to interpretation by the reader. He then gently guides you, without making the path too simple or obvious subtle would be my way of assessing it.
The book for me was about the right length. With good use of paragraphs and new chapters to signpost the reader and separate the two stories. I was so looking forward to reading this book as with a title like that it could mean and imply almost anything.
Maybe a prologue and an epilogue would have been using, but the author has written several books in the Inspector Banks series, so to find out what happens to him next you simple read his next novel.
A very good crime thriller that is gently paced until the final few chapters. I enjoyed the book and the clever way the author managed to break the two stories up. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good detective yarn. For me this was not quite as good as 'piece of my heart' but no the less an enjoyable read. On this showing I rate Robinson's work above Rankin by the depth and quality of his writing.
Published by: MacMillan 2005
Price: £4.99 new from Amazon
Web Site: http://www.inspectorbanks.com
Thanks for reading my reviews.
This review is also written on Ciao under my user name.
@CPT Daniels December 2008.