Catching Up with Inspector Banks

Last month I read A Necessary End and Past Reason Hated by Peter Robinson, books 3 and 5 in his Inspector Banks series. I’ve read a few of his books out of order and I’m now filling in the gaps in my reading.

In A Necessary End a policeman is killed at an anti-nuclear demonstration in Eastvale. With over a hundred people at the demonstration at first there are plenty of suspects, but it soon becomes apparent that the main suspects are the organisers of the demonstration and the people living at Maggie’s Farm, an old Dales farmhouse set on the moors above the dales, the home of Seth Cotton.

To complicate matters Banks’ friend, Jenny Fuller is in a relationship with Dennis Osmond, a social worker and one of the main organisers of the demonstration. Jenny can’t believe that Dennis could be the culprit as he’d told he the last thing they had wanted was a violent confrontation.

This is the first book to introduce Detective Superintendent Richard ‘Dirty Dick’ Burgess, a troubleshooter from London called in to help with the investigations. Banks had worked with him a couple of times when was working in London and is not happy to see him. Because of this Banks works independently of Burgess and eventually gets to the bottom of the mystery.

Past Reason Hated is set just before Christmas when Caroline Hartley is found brutally murdered in her home she shared with Veronica Shildon. Three people had been seen visiting the house separately that evening. Nobody could describe them clearly – it had been dark and snowing and the street was not well lit and the investigation into her death centres on identifying them.

There are a number of suspects, among them is Charles Ivers, Caroline’s ex-husband, whom she had left to live with Veronica. There are also the members of the Eastvale amateur dramatic society who are rehearsing for a performance of Twelfth Night at the community centre. Caroline had a small part. But Banks is also interested in the music that was playing  when Caroline was found – the Laudate pueri – and in identifying the woman whose photo was found in Caroline’s belongings.

Both of these books are enjoyable but I preferred Past Reason Hated, because it has so many strands, which of course all interlinked and because of Robinson’s descriptions of the scenery in a snowy December. I also liked the focus on Susan Gay, newly promoted to Detective Constable as she stumbles to find her way in the team.

I am now addicted to the Banks books, which I enjoy more than the TV series. Both these books are from my TBRs.

Catching Up: three crime fiction books

I’m following the example of my blogging friend, Cath at Read Warbler, by writing a ‘catch up’ post as I am behind with writing reviews. That’s what going away for two weeks and then having an awful cold afterwards does for you!

So here are three crime fiction books, all very enjoyable 4 star books, that I read earlier this year:

A Dedicated Man by Peter Robinson, the second novel in Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks series, first published in 1988, and my 17th book for  Bev’s Mount TBR 2017 challenge. I’ve been reading these books totally out of order and have gone back to the first ones to fill in the gaps in my reading.

Banks is now more settled in Yorkshire after the events described in the first book, Gallows View. I was struck as I read the books how unlike the TV version of Banks they are. Banks, himself, is nothing like Stephen Tompkinson (who plays his role). Robinson’s Banks is ‘a small dark man, in appearance rather like the old Celtic strain of Welshman, and his physique certainly didn’t give away his profession.

The ‘dedicated man‘ is local historian, Harry Steadman, who was found half-buried under a dry-stone wall near the village of Helmthorpe, Swainsdale. It seems that nobody would have wanted to kill such a good man, but as Banks investigates his background several suspects emerge. Sally Lunn, a young teenager knows more than is good for her and sets out to beat the police in finding the culprit.

Banks is a dogged and determined police officer, also a ‘dedicated man‘ and he concentrates on Steadman’s past; after leaving Cambridge where he got a first in history, he’d taught at Leeds University where he’d developed an interest in industrial archaeology. After his father died he’d inherited a considerable fortune and left his job to concentrate on his own interests. He’d married, Emma, a plain-looking woman who Banks first mistook for the cleaning lady.

Other characters include Jack Barker, a crime fiction writer, Penny Cartwright, a folk singer and Michael Ramsden, a close friend who worked in publishing. I thought Barker’s comment about his editor was interesting – that he could spend two days working on a fine description and find his editor wants him to cut it out because it slows the action. I wondered if that was Robinson’s own experience because he does include passages of description that do slow down the action. But I like his style, which is a good balance of description and fast -paced action.

Completely different in style is my next book, also detective fiction. It’s The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien by Georges Simenon, translated by Linda Coverdale. This is the third book in the new series of Maigret novels in new translations, published by Penguin, originally written in 1930. In this short book (144 pages) Maigret observed a shabby man, travelling on a train from Holland to Bremen, carrying a small suitcase. He replaced the man’s suitcase with another exactly like it and followed him when he left the train, only to watch him through a keyhole in hotel bedroom, place a revolver in his mouth and press the trigger.  Maigret is disturbed by the thought that he had both witnessed the tragedy and been the cause of it. Wonderfully mysterious and obscure I was baffled for most of the book, as Maigret uncovers a crime from ten years earlier, revolving around the macabre drawings of hanged men of all types. A recurrent theme was the steeple of a church – the same church, that of Saint-Pholien in Liège.

A note at the beginning of the book reveals that the book was drawn from Simenon’s experiences in Liège, when he was ‘involved with a literary set, comprised of poets and young artists. A member of the group, Joseph Jean Kleine, was  found hanging from the doorway of the church of Saint-Pholien during this period, a tragedy that left its mark on Simenon.

Moving forward to 2016 my final book is Present Tense by W H S McIntyre, a criminal defence lawyer. It’s the 7th book in his Best Defence series, featuring criminal lawyer Robbie Munro. Munro is based in Linlithgow and deals mainly with Scottish Legal Aid cases.

Billy Paris, ex-military, leaves a cardboard box with Robbie and asks him to look after it for him, without telling him what it contained, but assuring him it wasn’t guns, knives or drugs. That’s OK until two men in black suits, one a detective inspector and the other from the Ministry of Defence, ask him for the box and want to know where they can find Billy.

It’s a legal drama, a tense and complicated mystery, combined with details of Robbie’s personal life. He is a single dad with a daughter, Tina, aged four and a half, living in his dad’s house along with his brother, Malky, an ex-footballer. His dad has promised Tina a Pyxie Girl doll for Christmas, but they’re impossible to get. There’s a lot about parenthood, more specifically fatherhood, and family relationships told with dark humour, all making for an intriguing and absorbing mystery.

My Friday Post

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City
Reader
 where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

I’ve recently finished reading Gallows View by Peter Robinson, the first Inspector Banks book and have decided to read the series in the order they were written. The second Inspector Banks book is A Dedicated Man. A Dedicated Man

When the sun rose high enough to clear the slate roofs on the other side of the street, it crept through a chink in Sally Lumb’s curtain and lit on a strand of gold blonde hair that curled over her cheek. She was dreaming.

This opening doesn’t tell me much about the book. If I didn’t know it’s an Inspector Banks book I’d probably not bother reading much further. But reading the blurb encourages me to read on:

Blurb:

Near the village of Helmthorpe, Swainsdale, the body of a well-liked local historian is found half-buried under a dry stone wall. Harry Steadman has been brutally murdered. But who would want to kill such a thoughtful, dedicated man?

Chief Inspector Alan Banks is called in to investigate and soon discovers that disturbing secrets lie behind the apparently bucolic facade. It is clear that young Sally Lumb, locked in her lover’s arms on the night of the murder, knows more than she is letting on. And her knowledge could lead to danger . . .

Also every Friday Freda at Freda’s Voice hosts The Friday 56

Friday 56

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. (If you have to improvise, that’s ok.)
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

From Page 56:

‘He was a fine man, good-tempered, even-natured. He had a sharp mind – and a tongue to match when it came to it – but he was a good man; he never hurt a soul, and I can’t think why anyone would want to kill him.’

‘Somebody obviously felt differently,’ Banks said. ‘I hear he inherited a lot of money.’

I’m pleased that page 56 provides information about the man in the title and provides an answer to the question of why anyone would want to kill such a good man. I haven’t read much more of the book so I’m still in the dark about the motive – was the man really killed for his money?

What do you think? Would you continue reading?

 

Gallows View by Peter Robinson

Gallows View: DCI Banks (Inspector Banks 1)

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the first Inspector Banks bookGallows View by Peter Robinson* (see below). I’ve read some of the later Banks books, totally out of order, which doesn’t seem to matter as I think they work well as stand alone books.

Inspector Alan Banks has been in Eastvale in the Yorkshire Dales for six months, having relocated from London. He has now got used to the slower pace of life and is working well with his colleagues. Sandra, his wife, has also settled well in Eastvale, making friends with Harriet and joining the local photography club.

There’s a peeping tom in the area, targeting young, blonde women, following them as they leave the pub and then watching as they undress for bed and there is also spate of break-ins by two balaclava-wearing thugs who rob old ladies and vandalize their homes. It’s clear quite early in the book that the two thugs are teenagers, Trevor Sharp and his friend, Mick Webster, who progress from robbing old ladies to burgling more prosperous homes when their owners are away from home, guided by Mick’s older brother, Lenny.

The main mystery is that of Alice Matlock, an old woman, living on her own, who is is found dead in her ransacked house in Gallows View, a row of old terraced  cottages. Her body was discovered by her friend, Ethel Carstairs, lying on her back, having fractured her skull on the corner of a table while falling backwards – or had she been pushed? Was she also a victim of Trevor and Mick, could it have been the peeping tom, or was someone else responsible? It might have just been an accident – she was old and her bones were brittle.

Dr Jenny Fuller, a psychologist at York University, has been brought in to help by providing a profile for the peeping tom case. Banks, a happily married man, is immediately attracted to her. They work well together, although Sandra, his wife, is rather suspicious at first about their relationship when she discovers that Dr Fuller is a young, attractive redhead.

It’s a good start to the series, which has now reached 24 books. It has quite a relaxed pace, with a complex and well constructed plot. The characters are convincing and realistic, and I like Banks, a hard working dedicated detective who gets on well with his boss, Superintendent Gristhorpe, who likes to build dry stone walls in his spare time.

As well as the crimes Robinson also explores a number of other issues – for example, feminism and gender, and education, comparing comprehensives and grammar schools. One thing that really dates it is the frequent mention of smoking in pubs!

As with other detective novels that have since been adapted for TV there are differences from the books. Peter Robinson explains on his website he has no power in the TV universe, and he thinks of the Banks books and the TV series as parallel universes. The characters are clearly meant to be different versions of the same person; they look different, have different personalities and meet different fates in different worlds.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 826 KB
  • Print Length: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; Reprints edition (21 Aug. 2009)
  • Source: I bought the e-book
  • My Rating: 4*

Gallows View is a book I’ve owned for over 2 years, so it qualifies for Bev’s Mount TBR Challenge.

*Peter Robinson later wrote a novella, Like A Virgin published in a short story collection, The Price of Love, which is about his last case in London just before he moved to Yorkshire.

Caedmon’s Song by Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson writes the Inspector Banks books, but he has also written short stories and a couple of standalone books including Caedmon’s Song, described as a psychological thriller.

Summary (from Peter Robinson’s website)

One warm June night, a university student called Kirsten is viciously attacked in a park by a serial killer. He is interrupted, and Kirsten survives, but in a severe physically and psychologically damaged state. As the killer continues, leaving a trail of mutilated corpses, Kirsten confronts her memories and becomes convinced not only that she can, but that she must remember what happened. Through fragments of nightmares, the details slowly reveal themselves. Interwoven with Kirsten’s story is that of Martha Browne, a woman who arrives in the Yorkshire coastal town of Whitby with a sense of mission. Finally, the two strands are woven together and united in a startling, chilling conclusion. 

My thoughts

Overall I liked Caedmon’s Song, but I wouldn’t describe it as a thriller, even though the attack on Kirsten is particularly vicious. It is set mainly in Whitby a seaside town in Yorkshire. The ruins of Whitby Abbey, Bram Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula, stand on the East Cliff overlooking the North Sea, with St Mary’s Church and Caedmon’s Cross nearby. I wondered as I began reading whether Martha’s visit to Whitby had any connection to Dracula, but although these places are described as she finds her way around the town they are just incidental to the plot.

Then I began to wonder about the connection between Kirsten and Martha because Robinson drops in quite a few clues early on in the book, which become explicit in the second half of the book. So, the links between them are quite easy to see, which disappointed me at first and lessened the tension. I wasn’t too convinced either by how Kirsten discovered her attacker’s identity and even considering the horrific details of her injuries I didn’t really feel sympathetic towards her as she comes across as rather cold-blooded. But as the narrative developed I began to enjoy the story and to wonder how it would end.

Kirsten considers whether she is a ‘born victim‘ or not, questioning her actions on the night of the attack, and wondering whether she had been inviting destruction. Her conclusion is that she wasn’t at all clear about it, but felt that it was her destiny, that she had been chosen as her attacker’s nemesis. All she knew was that she had to find him and face him. The ending is dramatic, but what would happen next is left open.

In his afterword Peter Robinson (written in 2003 when a new edition was published) explains that he had the idea for writing Caedmon’s Song in the late 1980s after he had written the first four Inspector Banks novels. He had felt he needed a change and wanted to write a novel in which the police played a subsidiary role. Then in September 1987 when he saw Whitby as he approached it on the coast road the idea for the setting and opening of the book came to him:

There lay Whitby, spread out below. The colours seemed somehow brighter and more vibrant than I remembered: the greens and blues of the North Sea, the red pantile roofs. Then the dramatic setting of the lobster-claw harbour and the two opposing hills, one capped with a church, the other with Captain Cook’s statue and the massive jawbone of a whale. I knew immediately that this was where the story had to take place, and that it began with a woman getting off a bus, feeling a little travel-sick, trying the place on for size. (pages 326-7)

I feel a trip to Whitby coming on – a place I’ve been wanting to visit for some years now.

Amazon UK link

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; Reprints edition (1 Aug. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1447225473
  • ISBN-13: 978-1447225478
  • Source : I bought the book
  • Rating: 3*

Reading challenges: Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017

Dry Bones That Dream by Peter Robinson: Book Notes

I read Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks books set in the Yorkshire Dales, every now and then, so I’m reading them totally out of order. It doesn’t seem to matter. Dry Bones That Dream is the 7th book in the series and the cover of my copy shows  Stephen Tompkinson as Banks. I don’t remember seeing this one on ITV, but I probably did as I see from the list of episodes in Wikipedia that it was broadcast in 2012.

Dry Bones That Dream was first published in the UK in 1995 and in the US later in as Final Account.

Summary from Peter Robinson’s website:

One May evening, two masked gunmen tie up Alison Rothwell and her mother, take Keith Rothwell, a local accountant, to the garage of his isolated Yorkshire Dales farmhouse, and blow his head off with a shotgun. Why? This is the question Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks has to ask as he sifts through Rothwell’s life. Rothwell was generally known in the area as a mild-mannered, dull sort of person, but even a cursory investigation raises more questions than answers. When Banks’s old sparring partner, DS Richard ‘Dirty Dick’Burgess, turns up from the Yard, the case takes yet another unexpected twist, and Banks finds himself racing against time as the killers seem to be dogging his footsteps. Only after he pits his job against his sense of justice does he discover the truth. And the truth leads him to one of the most difficult decisions of his career.

My Thoughts:

I read this quite quickly, even though it’s just over 350 pages, in between mammoth gardening sessions (more about that later maybe). It really centres around identity and unearthing the secrets the characters have kept hidden from their family and friends. There’s also money-laundering and international and political shenanigans involved.

Much of the book revolves around Banks and his relationships, with family, colleagues and the people he interviews in connection with Keith Rothwell. Banks seems to be at a pivotal moment in his personal life. As usual with the DCI Banks books  we are told what music Banks listens to which got a bit monotonous for me and the descriptions of what each character looked like and the clothes they were wearing didn’t add anything to the plot. I did have an inkling about the truth about Rothwell’s murder but thought I was being too fanciful and that it was an unlikely scenario – it wasn’t. But I did enjoy reading it anyway even with these drawbacks.

Playing With Fire by Peter Robinson

I wrote about the opening of Playing With Fire in my Tuesday post.  I’ve watched the TV version of DCI Banks, (although I don’t remember this seeing this particular one) but there are changes in the televised versions and to my mind the books are better – but then I always think that.

Synopsis (from the back cover)

In the early hours of a cold January morning, two narrow boats catch fire on the dead-end stretch of the Eastvale canal. When signs of accelerant are found at the scene, DCI Banks and DI Annie Cabbot are summoned. But by the time they arrive, only the smouldering wreckage is left, and human remains have been found on both boats.

The evidence points towards a deliberate attack. But who was the intended victim? Was it Tina, the sixteen-year-old who had been living a drug-fuelled existence with her boyfriend? Or was it Tom, the mysterious, lonely artist?

As Banks makes his enquiries, it appears that a number of people are acting suspiciously: the interfering ‘lock-keeper’, Tina’s cold-hearted step-father, the wily local art dealer, even Tina’s boyfriend . . . Then the arsonist strikes again, and Banks’s powers of investigation are tested to the limit . .

My thoughts

I’ve been reading Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks books totally out of order and as I began this one I thought that I’d read the next book in the series a few years ago. One of the benefits of writing a book blog is that I can look back and see what I thought about a book just after I’d read it, instead of having to rack my brain trying to remember. On checking back (nearly five years ago!) I found that I had indeed read the next book – Strange Affair and had thoroughly enjoyed it.

I liked Playing With Fire too, although maybe not quite as much as Strange Affair. It’s a complicated plot and at times I had to remind myself who the various characters were. I did get a bit fed up with reading about what music Banks is playing but I liked the way his relationship with Annie Cabbot is portrayed and the insights into how his mind works.

I thought I’d spotted who the killer was quite early on and was pleased to see at the end that I was right, although I thought Banks should also have spotted it earlier!