|Novelist Peter Robinson.|
Although I had previously read with pleasure the British-born Canadian Peter Robinson’s standalone novel, Before the Poison (William Morrow & Co., 2013), I had not dipped into his DCI Alan Banks police procedural series until this summer. My first entry was All the Colours of Darkness (McClelland & Stewart, 2008), and it was a wonderful introduction, particularly for a reader whose primary interest in mysteries is not a whodunit but an exploration of character, relationships, issues or themes. That was followed by several other novels: Bad Boy (2011), Watching in the Dark, (2012), Children of the Revolution (2013), and perhaps the best of them all, the multiple award-winning In a Dry Season (1999). Also, as a highly educated writer with a PhD in twentieth-century British poets and an individual with an eclectic taste in music, his novels are laced with literary and musical associations that are frequently integrated into the narrative as motifs. For instance, the title of the last novel mentioned above derives from a line from a T.S. Eliot poem that Banks himself references. Banks who works in rural Yorkshire in the town of Eastvale may remind some readers of Inspector Reg Wexford and the cultured Commander Adam Dalgliesh. Their creators, both the late P.D. James and Ruth Rendell respectively, were inspirations to Robinson. For the purposes of this review, I will focus primarily on All the Colours of Darkness and In a Dry Season.
Robinson’s character study of Banks, Cabbot, and Vivian Elmsley turns a finely-crafted novel into one of real depth provoking self-reflection as to whether wise choices in their past were made. Brooding on the disintegration of his marriage to Sandra, questioning his career that has gone into freefall supposedly for insubordination, and at odds with a son whom he thinks is intent on wasting his life in a musical band – years later in Colours of Darkness, Banks takes pride in his son’s musical accomplishments – the Chief Inspector at one point takes solace in listening to Bob Dylan’s 1975 album Blood on the Tracks, which is often thought to be about Dylan’s own marital problems. Professionally, he begins to really care about what happened to Gloria Shackleton. Personally, his life takes on a new meaning by an aborning relationship with Annie Cabbot, a feminist and more youthful cop. Her professional life has also been redlined by her inability to quietly accept the macho sexism of her male colleagues and she has paid a high price for being “difficult.” She is dispatched to a tiny outpost where the work there does not provide the challenge to match her skills – until she is teamed with Banks to assist him in solving a crime that occurred years before. Without spelling out too many details, I think that Robinson is suggesting a similarity between the life of a sometimes brazen Gloria and a free-spirited Annie.
Annie, the daughter of a painter, has a deep interest in the visual arts and furthers the plot by visiting a gallery in Leeds to see a nude painting of Gloria created by a local eccentric in Hobb’s End. The portrait evokes for Annie parallels with Goya’s Naked Maja and Manet’s Olympia, parallels that offer further insight into Gloria’s character. (It is worth noting that at one point early in the novel, Banks, who is more comfortable with music than painting, is whistling an aria from Bizet’s Carman, one of the most famous femme fatales in the operatic canon.) But the most memorable response to that painting comes from the elderly Vivian Elmsley, who is most disturbed by her own unsettled responses to it. Writing of this quality places Robinson in the highest echelons of crime writers, rivalling if not surpassing that of the more well-known Ian Rankin and the passel of Scandinavian writers.
Finally, I will offer a few brief comments about the television series DCI Banks (three seasons of which are available on DVD in Canada). Its greatest strength is the casting of Stephen Topkinson as Alan Banks, whom I think convincingly, inhabits the role, and Andrea Lowe as Annie Cabbot. I find the decision to cast Caroline Catz as DI Morton puzzling, since this character is not in the original novels. Other curious decisions include developing the love interest between Banks and Cabbot in the television adaptation of Bad Boy given that by the time of this novel, their love has morphed more into a professional but caring relationship. I think it would have been more powerful if the program had adhered to what did happen to Cabbot in the novel. But these caveats should not deter anyone from seeing the series which is not merely watchable but often compelling. However, reading the novels should take first priority.
|(photo by Keith Penner)|