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!

Crime Fiction Alphabet: Letter R

This week I’ve chosen Peter Robinson‘s Bad Boy to illustrate the letter R in Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet.

Bad Boy is Peter Robinson’s 19th book in his Inspector Banks series, but I don’t think you have to have read the previous 18 because it functions OK as a stand-alone, as quite a lot of the back-story is included.

Description from the back cover:

Banks isn’t back, and that’s the problem.

If DCI Alan Banks had been in his office when his old neighbour came calling, perhaps it would have turned out differently.

Perhaps an innocent man would still be alive.

And perhaps Banks’s daughter wouldn’t be on the run with a wanted man.

But Banks is on holiday, blissfully unaware of the terrible chain of events set in motion by the discovery of a loaded gun in a young woman’s bedroom, and his daughter’s involvement with the ultimate bad boy . . .

My thoughts:

There’s not much more for me to write about this book. I didn’t think it was as interesting as the earlier ones of his that I’ve read. For one thing there’s not much of a mystery for Banks to solve and for another I didn’t like the graphic descriptions of violence it contains. It’s a police procedural to a certain extent, except of course, that Banks doesn’t actually always follow the set procedures.

Banks does come back from his holiday, down to earth with a vengeance as he sets out to rescue Tracy, his daughter from the wanted man, Jaff, the ‘bad boy’.

DI Annie Cabot obligingly gives a definition of a ‘bad boy’:

A bad boy is unreliable, and sometimes he doesn’t show up at all, or if he does, he’s late and moody, he acts mean to you and he leaves early. He always has another fire in the iron, somewhere else to be. But always while you’re waiting for him you can’t really concentrate on anything else, and you have at least one eye on the door in case he’s the next one to walk in the room, even though you might be seeing someone else, and when you’re with him your heart starts to beat a little faster and your breath catches in your chest. (page 163)

As for Banks, there are some interesting insights into his personality. He realises that he is ‘a stranger‘ to happiness, and that he has a restless nature which precluded happiness. If he wasn’t restless he either felt a vague sadness which was occasionally punctured with anger or irritation. He also realises that he hadn’t been a good parent, but he had felt inadequate and awkward with Tracy as she was growing up, not knowing how to communicate with her.

But, Banks is on the side of law and order, despite not always sticking to procedure:

If there was one part of the job Banks hated more than any other, it was that feeling of impotence and ineffectiveness he often felt by having dedicating himself to upholding the law, following the rules. He cut corners from time to time, like everyone, had occasionally acted rashly and even, perhaps, illegally, but on the whole, he was on the side of the virtuous and the good. (page 322)

And are there hints at the end about Banks’s future? He says he is ‘getting a bit tired of it all, to be honest.’ Do I sense that Peter Robinson is getting a bit tired of Banks too?

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks; 1st edition (28 April 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0340836970
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340836972
  • Source: Library book
  • My Rating: 3/5

The Hanging Valley by Peter Robinson: a Book Review

There are 20 books in Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks series (listed at Fantastic Fiction). I’ve read a few of them, completely out of order, but it doesn’t seem to matter too much as each one stands alone, although I suspect I’d get a better idea of Banks’s personal life if I had read them in order!

The Hanging Valley is the fourth one in the series.

Synopsis (from the back cover):

A faceless corpse is discovered in a tranquil, hidden valley below the village of Swainshead. And when Chief Inspector Alan Banks arrives, he finds that no-one is willing to talk. Banks’s frustration only grows when the identity of the body is revealed. For it seems that his latest case may be connected with an unsolved murder in the same area five years ago. Among the silent suspects are the Collier brothers, the wealthiest and most powerful family in Swainsdale. When they start use their influence to slow down the investigation, Inspector Alan Banks finds himself in a race against time…

My view:

As well as the Collier brothers, there are other suspects, including John Fletcher, a taciturn farmer, Sam Greenock and his wife Katy who own the local Bed and Breakfast guest house. There’s something not quite right about Katy, she’s obviously troubled and hiding something, and she is dominated by Sam. As I read on I thought the killer was first one character, then another and never really worked out who it was until quite near the end. I enjoyed the puzzle.

Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks had been transferred to Eastvale from London two years earlier and is still getting to know the area. He’d moved from London because of the sheer pressure of the job and the growing confrontation between the police and citizens in the capital had got him down. Crime in Eastvale had been slack until this murder happened. And it’s complicated, the locals close ranks and Banks has to work hard to get information, first of all to discover who the victim was and why he had been killed. The trail leads him abroad to Toronto before Banks discovers the truth.

The Hanging Valley is rich in description, both of the Yorkshire Dales and of Toronto. (Peter Robinson was born in Yorkshire and now lives in Toronto.) The hanging valley sounds a beautiful spot, a small, secluded wooded valley with unusual foliage:

… the ash , alders and sycamores … seemed tinged with russet, orange and earth brown. It seemed … like a valley out of Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’.

… the valley clearly had a magical quality. It was more luxuriant than the surrounding area, its ferns and shrubs more lush and abundant, as if, Neil thought, God had blessed it with a special grace. (page 5)

All of which makes the discovery of the corpse so shocking, with its flesh literally crawling. So, I enjoyed this book on two levels – the mystery and the writing itself. I did think, though, that it could have been shorter and more concise, and some of the characters were rather indistinguishable which is why I rated it 3/5.

  • Paperback: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; New edition (8 Nov 2002)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0330491644
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330491648
  • Source: I bought it

Recent Reading

I’ve read some books recently and haven’t written about them – ‘real life’ keeps getting in the way! So here are a few brief notes on three of the books I’ve read this month:

  • The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi 4/5 – the first in the Hermes Diaktoros, Greek detective series, set on a remote Greek island. Hermes investigates the death of a young woman. It’s great on location and characters, but a bit slow in parts. Each of the books in the series features one of the Seven Deadly Sins – in this one it is the sin of lust. I’ve read the third book in the series – The Doctor of Thessaly – and have the fifth one, The Whispers of Nemesis. I just need to find the second and fourth books to complete the series.
  • Before the Poison by Peter Robinson 4/5. This is a stand-alone book, about Chris Lowndes, a widower who has bought a house in the Yorkshire Dales. Sixty years earlier a man had died there and his wife Grace was convicted of his murder and hanged. Chris wants to discover whether she really was guilty. This is a convincing mystery, told alternating between the present day and the past. Another book well grounded in its locality and with great characterisation.
  • The Inspector’s Daughter by Alanna Knight 3.5/5 – the first in the Rose McQuinn Mystery series. Set in Edinburgh in 1895, Rose, recently returned from America’s Wild West, steps into the shoes of her father, DI Faro (another series of books features this detective). Her friend Alice ask her to investigate her husband’s strange behaviour as she is convinced he’s having an affair. Meanwhile there is also the mystery of the brutal murder of a servant girl to solve. Rose lives in an isolated house at the foot of Arthur’s Seat and is helped by a wild deerhound who appears just when she needs him. An interesting historical murder mystery, convincingly set in the late 19th century, when Edinburgh was developing and the Forth Railway Bridge had just been opened.

Crime Fiction Alphabet – Letter N

This week we’ve reached the letter N in Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet. My choice is a medley of ‘N‘s.

  • I had thought I would review Peter James’s Not Dead Enough, and I started it a while back but put it down to read other books. Not because I didn’t like it, but it’s a very long book – 610 pages of very small font, which is difficult for me to read, especially late at night when my eyes get tired quickly. From the back cover:

On the night Brian Bishop murdered his wife he was sixty miles away, asleep in bed at the time. At least that’s the way it looks to Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, who is called to investigate the kinky slaying of beautiful young Brighton socialite, Katie Bishop.

  • Another choice for the letter N that I considered is A Necessary End, an Inspector Banks mystery by Peter Robinson but I haven’t finished that book either. From the back cover:

In the usually peaceful town of Eastvale, a simmering tension has now reached breaking point. An anti-nuclear demonstration has ended in violence, leaving one policeman stabbed to death. Fired by professional outrage, Superintendent ‘Dirty Dick’ Burgess descends with vengeful fury on the inhabitants of ‘Maggie’s Farm’, an isolated house high on the daleside.

  • My third choice is Not the End of the World by Christopher Brookmyre. I started reading this after enjoying Quite Ugly One Morning. The bookmark shows I’m up to page 30. I think I didn’t finish this book because I was expecting it to be set in Scotland like Quite Ugly One Morning and was put off by it being in Los Angeles – silly I know!

 

  • Then there is Agatha Christie’s Nemesis, which is the last Miss Marple mystery. I only bought it recently and I’m itching to read it soon. Mr Rafiel, an old acquaintance (see A Caribbean Mystery), has died and left Miss Marple instructions for her to investigate a crime after his death.

 

  • And finally the book I’m currently reading is Janet Neel’s Ticket to Ride, which so far is making very interesting reading. But I don’t want to write much about it before I’ve finished it. Ticket to Ride features Jules Carlisle a newly qualified solicitor. She takes on the case of Mirko Dragunoviç, an illegal immigrant who claims that one of the eight dead bodies, found on the beach west of King’s Lynn, is that of his brother.

Janet Neel is the nom de plume of Baroness Cohen of Pimlico who sits as a Labour peer in the House of Lords. She started out as a solicitor, then went to the Board of Trade and then to Charterhouse Bank. She has written several crime fiction novels. The first, Death’s Bright Angel won the John Creasey Prize and both Death of a Partner and Death Among the Dons were shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger.

Not Safe After Dark by Peter Robinson

Not Safe After Dark and Other Works is a collection of twenty short stories by Peter Robinson. There are three Inspector Banks stories, one of which Going Back is a novella that had not been published before. The other stories are varied in length, technique and style.

 Of them all I prefer the Inspector Banks stories, in particular Going Back. There isn’t much mystery in this story, but a lot about Banks himself, his youth, relationships with his parents and brother Roy and about his old girlfriend, Kay. It’s his parents’ golden wedding anniversary and Banks goes home for the weekend for the party. He sleeps in his old bedroom with its old glass-fronted bookscase containing a cross-section of his early years’ reading, finds old records he’d forgotten he had, his old school reports, photos and his books of adolescent poetry. His mother treats him like she did as a child, prefering his younger brother Roy and his visit is spoilt by the presence of a new neighbour, the ever-helpful and charming Geoff Salisbury. He is suspicious of Geoff from the start – and with good reason.

Some are historical –In Flanders Field, Missing in Action and The Two Ladies of Rose Cottage. The latterwas inspired by Robinson’s visit to Brockhampton in Dorset where Thomas Hardy was born and also by his interest in Hardy. In 1939 the narrator of the story as a young man first met Miss Eunice and Miss Teresa, who had known Thomas Hardy – was she really the Tess on which he based Tess of the D’Urbervilles? She denied it but then it turned out that Miss Teresa was charged with murder, although  nothing was proved. Years later Miss Eunice had a shocking tale to tell.  This reminded me I still haven’t finished reading Claire Tomalin’s biography of Hardy – The Time-Torn Man.

Of  the other stories I also liked Some Land in Florida, in which Santa ends up in the pool with his electric piano thrown in after him – still plugged in. A private eye, there on holiday isn’t convinced it is an accident. April in Paris is a poignantly sad love story about happened when love turned to hatred.

Some of the stories were written when Robinson was asked for stories on a specific topic – Gone the the Dawgs, about American Football and The Duke’s Wife, a modern telling of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.

I enjoyed some of these stories more than others – mainly the longer ones. I do prefer novels where characters and plots are more developed than is possible in a short story. I wrote more about this book here.

Book Notes

I’ve read a few books recently and not written about them.They’re library books and due back very soon so  I thought I’d jot down a few notes about each one.

  • Not in the Flesh by Ruth Rendell (audio book)
  • Dave and I listened to this in the car whilst travelling to Northumberland and back. This is an Inspector Wexford mystery – a man taking his dog for a walk discovers a severed hand, which turns out to be part of a skeleton wrapped in a purple sheet. The police have to discover the identity of the victim – and of the body of a second corpse found in a nearby house. Both have been lying undiscovered for at least ten years. I’m not used to listening to books and I did find it a bit difficult to follow. Of course, the sat nav and traffic news kept interrupting which didn’t help, but even so I did get confused. There were too many people and sub-plots. Maybe I should read the book.

    It seemed overlong. I thought it would have been improved if it had been shorter and less rambling. It was narrated by Christopher Ravenscroft who plays Mike Burden in the Wexford TV series. He took Wexford’s voice so well I could almost imagine it was George Baker reading that part.

  • Somewhere Towards the End by Diana Athill
  • I loved this memoir. Diana Athill comes across as an honest writer, not afraid to say what she thinks, now she is no longer an editor. As the title indicates, she writes about what it is like getting towards the end of her life. At the time of writing she was 89 years old and looking back on her life with few regrets. This is a book I may well buy to re-read at leisure.

  • All the Colours of Darkness by Peter Robinson 
  • I have mixed feelings about this book, parts of it really interested me, but I could have done without the terrorist attack and involvement of MI5 and MI6. This is only the 2nd Inspector Banks book I’ve read and it’s the 18th in Robinson’s series. I think that doesn’t matter as I had no difficulty in sorting out his relationships and although other cases are referred to this reads OK as a stand-alone book. What I did have difficulty with was believing the spy stuff – one of the victims had been a spook. What I do like is Robinson’s descriptive writing eg:

    It was after sunset, but there was a still glow deep in the cloudless western sky, dark orange and indigo. Banks could smell warm grass and manure mingled with something sweet, perhaps flowers that only opened at night. A horse whinied in a distant field. The stone he sat on was still warm and he could see the lights of Helmshore beneath the tree, down at the bottom of the dale, the outline of the sqaure church tower with its odd round turret, dark and heavy against the sky. Low on the western horizon, he could see a planet, which he took to be Venus, and higher up, towards the north, a red dot he guessed was Mars. (page 224)

  • Murder in the Museum by Simon Brett
  • This is the fourth in Simon Brett’s Fethering Mysteries series. It’s set in Bracketts, an Elizabethan house, the former home of Esmond Chadleigh, a celebrated poet during his lifetime. The house is about to be turned into a museum, although not all the Trustees agree. Carole Seddon has been co-opted onto the Board of Trustees and when a skeleton is discovered in the kitchen garden she soon becomes involved in solving the mystery. Then Sheila Cartwright, the bossy domineering former Director of the Trustees is shot, and Carole finds her own life is in danger.

    I haven’t read any of the other Fethering mysteries so have yet again  jumped into the middle of a series. In this case I think it would have helped to read the earlier ones. Carole and her neighbour Jude obviously have acted as sleuths in the past. I liked this book, once I’d read a few chapters and thought Carole and Jude’s relationship was well described. Carole likes everything cut and dried and out in the open with her friends. She cannot understand and resents Jude’s reticence. I’m going to look out for more of Simon Brett’s books.

    Sunday Salon

    tssbadge1I thought I would remind myself of the concept of the Sunday Salon. So I’ve copied this from the Sunday Salon home page  – imagine yourself in some university library’s vast reading room. It’s filled with people–students and faculty and strangers who’ve wandered in. They’re seated at great oaken desks, books piled all around them, and they’re all feverishly reading and jotting notes in their leather-bound journals as they go. Later they’ll mill around the open dictionaries and compare their thoughts on the afternoon’s literary intake….

    That’s what happens at the Sunday Salon, except it’s all virtual. Every Sunday the bloggers participating in that week’s Salon get together–at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones–and read. And blog about their reading.

    It’s grey outside and it’s raining, so I have some time today to sit and read and then write, even though I should really be sorting out what to pack, what to throw away, and what to take to the charity shops in preparation for moving house.

    Today so far I read over my breakfast a few chapters from All the Colours of Darkness by Peter Robinson. This is the second Inspector Banks mystery I’ve read and I’m only at the beginning of this one. So far two bodies have been discovered. One is the body of theatre set designer Mark Hardcastle and appears to be a suicide. But when the second body is found Inspector Banks is dragged back from leave to head the investigation because a senior and experienced officer has to be seen to be in charge. I’ve just made the mistake of glancing at some reviews on Amazon, in which some people have said how disappointing this book is and not up to Robinson’s usual standard. Not everyone agrees of course and I’ll wait until I’ve read it before passing judgement.

    I wanted a break from reading crime fiction and wondered what to pick up whilst having a cup of coffee (I’m on my second cup of the day now). I had started Dewey: the Small-Town Library Cat yesterday but it didn’t match my mood this morning. I didn’t feel like a sentimental read, so instead I read some more from Karen Armstrong’s book The Case for God. This is non-fiction indeed – although some may argue that religion is fiction! Any attempt by me to summarise this book would be futile. Basically it’s a run-through of the ideas people have had about ‘God’ over the centuries.

     I like to know an author’s background and qualifications when I’m reading a book like this. I  know that Karen Armstrong became a nun in the 1960s and then left her order and eventually became a writer and broadcaster. According to the information on the book jacket she is also a passionate campaigner for religious liberty, and was awarded the Franklin J Roosevelt Four Freedoms Medal in 2008  for her work. I’ve seen her in discussions on TV and respect her views and way she puts them forward, but I would like to know more about her own personal beliefs.

    The Case for God seems to me to be an objective account, mainly concerning the monotheistic faiths, Christianity in particular. This morning I read the chapters on The Enlightenment and Atheism. I have studied the Enlightenment period in the past so I found this chapter easy to read. It contains brief summaries of the various theologians and philosophers of the 18th century both in Europe and America. She writes about Hegel (I know nothing about him, so this was interesting) and points out that

    In a way that would become habitual in the modern critique of faith, he had presented a distorted picture of ‘religion’ as a foil for his own ideas, selecting one strand of  a complex tradition and arguing that it represented the whole.

    I’ve yet to read what she says about Richard Dawkins, that comes later in the book – should be interesting too.

    I haven’t decided yet what I’ll be reading later today. I think I’ll listen to Jerry Springer on Desert Island Discs on the radio this morning. There is a new series on BBC tonight that looks as though it should be good – Garrow’s Law . This is set in the late 18th century – a young, idealistic barrister, William Garrow, is given his first criminal defence case at the Old Bailey by attorney and mentor, John Southouse. So it’s back to crime fiction. It’s based on real cases and William Garrow was a barrister who revolutionised the legal system. So I may not read any more today – other than other Sunday Salon posts that is.