This is a collection of twenty short crime stories, including three Inspector Banks stories and an Inspector Banks novella (90+ pages). The title story Not Safe after Dark is just six pages long and yet those six pages are full of tension and suspense as an unnamed man enters a park after dark, even though he knows that such big city parks are dangerous places.
Peter Robinson’s introduction is interesting for me in that he explains how he writes and compares writing a novel to writing short stories. He’s used to thinking in terms of the novel, with it’s ‘broad canvas’ and finds it hard to ‘work in miniature’. Short stories don’t come easily to him.
I carry a novel around in my head for a long time – at least a year, waking and sleeping – and this gives me time to get under the skin of the characters and the story. Also, plotting is probably the most difficult part of writing for me, and being asked to write a short story, which so often depends on a plot twist, a clever diversion or a surprising revelation, guarantees that I’ll get the laundry done and probably the ironing too.
In short stories there is no space to develop the characters or the plot, nor to give different points of view as in a novel. But, as far as I’m concerned, with the stories I’ve read so far in this book Robinson has succeeded in creating convincing stories with believable characters in real settings.
Often reading short stories I’m left wanting more, which is what happened to Robinson with one of these stories. Innocence is a haunting tale of a man accused of murduring a teenage girl. After writing Innocence, which won the Crime Writer of Canada’s Best Short Story Award in 1991, he couldn’t let the story go and went on to write a whole novel expanding on the events of the story. This eventually became Innocent Graves, featuring Inspector Banks (who is not in the short story).
The other stories include a private-eye story set in Florida, a romantic Parisian mystery, a historical story inspired by Robinson’s interest in Thomas Hardy and the place where he was born, and stories about such varied topics as American Football and Shakespeare.
Note: Peter Robinson’s website is here.