PLAYING WITH FIRE by Peter Robinson
I met a new man over the Christmas Period and I just know we are going to be good friends. His name is DCI Alan Banks, of Eastvale in the Yorkshire Dales.
At the centre of it all, by the pooling that marked the seat of the blaze, lay a blackened body . . . It had been hard to spot at first among the charred furniture and fixtures, but once you managed to separate it out from its context, you couldn’t miss it, and Banks knew he would never forget it.”
Banks will never forget it as this is not the first charred body he has come across in his career. For his career is murder.
In the early hours of a cold January morning, two narrow boats catch on fire on the dead-end stretch of the Eastvale Canal. 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.”
What follows is a ripping tale of red-herrings and false leads. Who was the main target of the arsonist? Was it Tina, a sixteen-year-old runaway and drug addict? Or was it Tom, the mysterious, and seemingly solitary artist?
Tina is a victim of her family. Her boyfriend Mark hopes to rescue Tina from the depths to which she has sunk but I nonetheless got the feeling that the Tinas of this world cannot be rescued. Maybe that sounds a little harsh but I think Robinson has created a character in Tina that makes you feel sorry for her, yes, but also despair that she has been betrayed by those who should have protected her in her young life. Mark, the boyfriend, initially comes across as one of those characters who will also end up with a sticky end, but by the end of the book, you see there is hope for Mark to change and make his way to a better life. Somehow Mark will beat the odds and survive.
Tom the artist, far from being mysterious is not a very nice man. Egotistical, ambitious and dishonest, Tom was not on the road to success.
Robinson takes us into the world of art and art forgery. Into a world where not everyone is really what they seem to be. Although it must be said, that with six foot plus, Jamaican policewoman, Winsome, what you see is what you get. Winsome has a brain as well as a body and looks and she is not afraid to use it – the brain, that is. And this is the appeal of these character for me. Banks and Cabbot argue over the case, each going his own way at times, but they still complement each other. There are no big egos here, no point scoring or over ambitious or bumbling detectives, just good solid hard slog and deductions. And that is the way I like my Police Procedurals.
Plenty of murders, yes, but no gory details. What we have instead is a good solid story with the good guys coming out on top and the bad guys, well, most of them, getting their just desserts.
Playing with Fire is the 14th book in the Inspector Banks series. The author was recommended to me, and, as usual, my local library was short on Robinson’s books. No matter. Although there is some back story of the relationship between Banks and Cabbot it doesn’t detract from reading this stand alone book. Rather, it makes me want to go back to the beginning with the first book in the series, Gallows View. No guess then on what I am waiting for the postman to bring me over the next week or two.
Playing with Fire by Peter Robinson
London, Macmillan 2004