I came rather late to the Peter Robinson party, which I think was probably something of an advantage. Having gone back and read the earlier books it’s very clear that as his DCI Banks novels have progressed he has made great strides in both his characterisation and his plotting, so much so that Stephen King’s puff on the back of his latest, Abattoir Blues, claiming that the series is the best…on the market, doesn’t seem substantially overblown.
Set, as most of the novels are, in the Yorkshire Dales, this latest instalment sees Banks and his Inspector, Annie Cabot, in pursuit of a gang of thieves involved in a rather more sophisticated form of rustling than that which we associate with farming tales of earlier years. While animals are vanishing, the more substantial items on the missing list are farm vehicles valued in at least five figures, which are being whisked off to destinations in Eastern Europe. The latest of these is a tractor belonging to incomer John Beddoes and shall we say that he is not best pleased.
When Michael Lane, the son of a nearby farmer, goes missing it is inevitable that he becomes a prime suspect in the robbery, especially as there is a history of bad blood between him and Beddoes. However, the discovery in a deserted building of evidence that points to a murder, alongside indications of some sort of large machinery having been stored there, raises questions as to whether or not Lane has been involved in much more than theft and despite the protestations of his girl friend that he would not have been associated with anything illegal, an all out manhunt begins.
Like a good number of crime novels at the moment, one of the questions this book raises is whether or not there are people involved in illegality who are so high up in the echelons of society as to be untouchable by the law. There are certainly a good many who think that is the case and I’ve read several novels this year that take the line that this is now how the world works. I won’t spoil the conclusion of this particular story for you, but simply say that it was more satisfactory than certain others, some of which have left me spitting feathers and despairing of a justice system seen as hidebound by the greed of people in power.
One characteristic of Robinson’s novels that I really appreciate is that he offers me a complete experience with each book. While there is the on-going story of Alan Banks’ private life and the slow development of the characters that surround him, the core of each narrative is the specific crime that he and his team have been called upon to investigate and there is rarely any sense of being left in limbo having to wait a year for the next book to see how a particular storyline is going to play out. I can’t say that it doesn’t ever happen – I’ve just remembered being left uncertain as to whether or not Annie Cabot would recover from a shooting incident – but it is rare. It isn’t that I think a secondary on-going crime narrative can’t be made to work, but if it takes over from the primary case without being resolved then the novel becomes unbalanced. It takes a really good writer to bring it off.* There is no such problem with Robinson, although, ironically, perhaps he has the skills to make it work.
So, while I will have to wait a year to see if Winsome’s love story is going to have a happy ending (I do hope so!) I do know what happened to John Beddoes’ tractor, have discovered whether or not Michael Lane lived up to his girlfriend’s confidence in him and have seen at least some of the baddies get the comeuppance they deserved. All in all a satisfactory couple of days reading.
*The best example I’ve come across recently has been Jane Casey in The Kill in which she brings her on-going story to the fore and makes it the central crime, thus eliminating any possible narrative conflict.