Top positive review
2 people found this helpful
good writing and plotting, and solid characterization
on 20 June 2014
NOTE: SPOILERS AVOIDED. This is my first Peter Robinson novel, so I'm in no position to say whether or not this is better or worse than others in the Inspector Banks series. On its own merits, it's a solid piece of work, clearly written, cleverly plotted, and bringing together convincingly two different histories that need to be taken into account in the investigation of the murder of a disgraced lecturer at a provincial university. One of these histories goes back to the victim's student days in the early 1970's, and it captures something of the political climate in left-wing circles in the universities in the decade that would end with Margaret Thatcher in power. The other history is more recent, and it belongs to the world of political correctness and date-rape drugs. The victim's disappointments in both these periods are focused on as Alan Banks and his team dig into the case, which raises issues of class and privilege especially for the lower-middle class Banks, who has to deal with his own feelings about his success and about the ease with which others more fortunately positioned achieve theirs.
Banks is an appealing protagonist, with a touch of the Rebus about him, though he's not as scathingly dismissive of the hierarchy in his district (in North Yorkshire) as Rebus is of his superiors in Edinburgh. He drinks less than Rebus and seems to keep a tidier house, but Banks too is nearing retirement age, and whether retirement or promotion is in store for him is a question. Robinson does a particularly good job of creating a sense of the way in which a team of detectives work together on a case, and the women detectives in particular, to whose consciousnesses we have access, are individual and interestingly distinct in their own right. There are generational differences among them, as well as ethnic differences, and it all works together without seeming forced. There is the obligatory scene in which Banks (like Rebus) is hauled over the coals for unorthodox procedure and is pressured by his superiors to lay off the rich and powerful, and you can guess how that turns out. Thankfully, the worn-out trick of allowing the reader limited access to the consciousness of the killer -- while coyly avoiding identifying him or her -- is avoided. The only heads we are "inside" are those of detectives on Bank's team.
The ending has its predictable elements, and yet it does involve Banks in some interesting decisions, and the characters who fall within the orbit of suspicion -- and the victim himself -- have sufficiently complicated histories as to make moral judgments about most of them not always easy. The relatively rural setting has its part to play too, especially in the later chapters, although it lacks the specific cultural and political weight of Edinburgh in the Rebus novels. Nonetheless, the novel satisfies the criteria of a good procedural without reducing the characters of either the police or the suspects and their circles to mere moving parts in a plot mechanism. Ian Rankin at his best is perhaps an edgier writer and Rebus an attractively looser cannon than Banks, but this particular mixture of class, politics, drugs, sex, and deceit should give much pleasure.