Review: Friend of the Devil by Peter Robinson

19 May 2008

Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks makes a welcome return in Friend of the Devil, by now a wiser more reflective man than when we first met him in 1987, then newly moved to Yorkshire from London. Banks still likes his music and savours his beer, and his attention can be caught by an attractive woman.

In Friend of the Devil, Peter Robinson creates an intricate plot that intertwines past and present crimes and links together different murders being investigated by Alan Banks and by Detective Inspector Annie Cabbot. Annie is facing her own demons, including her feelings for Banks, and she doesn’t handle them all that well.

The crimes they are investigating are the death of a girl in The Maze, the ancient cobbled alley ways in fictional Eastvale, and that of a tetraplegic woman in a wheelchair on the coast. The links are to two separate crimes in the past, including a possible serial rapist and his death, and a shocking trail of death and sexual attacks by a sadistic couple. The story reflects on the impact of crime on the victims, and the tragedies that ensue. Events do stray towards the unlikely, but the skill of the writer makes them believable and in a sense inevitable, given what we learn about the people concerned

Banks has some of the characteristics of the typical fictional police detective – independent thought, but he recognises the political reality of his profession; relationships that generally avoid the permanent, but with plenty of promise at the start; and an unexpected attachment to different kinds of music, in his case not exclusively the jazz or classical tastes of some of his fictional contemporaries. Peter Robinson also knows how to write interesting sidekicks – not just Annie Cabbot, but also Winsome Jackman and Kevin Templeton, and not to forget Detective Superintendent Catherine Gervaise. The families of the victims are beautifully drawn and seem very real. Current technology, whether recreational or forensic, is also well-handled without taking over.

For me, this has been a very satisfying series, with the quality maintained all along. The writing is unobtrusive, the characters real, and the resolution of the crimes satisfying. This includes the books where Banks has gone into his past, or into his family, to resolve a mystery.

Friend of the Devil by Peter Robinson, published by Hodder (2008, paperback), ISBN 978 0 340 83691 0

See Wikipedia entry

Other books by Peter Robinson:

Alan Banks series – Gallows View (1987); A Dedicated Man (1988); A Necessary End (1989); The Hanging Valley (1989); Past Reason Hated (1991); Wednesday’s Child (1992); Dry Bones That Dream (1994); Innocent Graves (1996); Dead Right (1997); In A Dry Season (1999); Cold is the Grave (2000); Aftermath (2001); The Summer that Never Was (2003); Playing with Fire (2004); Strange Affair (2005); A Piece of My Heart (2006); All The Colours Of Darkness (2008).

Other books – Caedmon’s Song (1990); No Cure for Love (1995); Not Safe After Dark (1998); (short stories)


Review: The Death of Dalziel by Reginald Hill

31 December 2007

deathofdalziel.jpgThe Death of Dalziel is the latest in Reginald Hill’s long-running series of the Dalziel and Pascoe novels. They’ve been around for a while, since 1970 in fact, when bright, university-educated Detective-Sergeant Peter Pascoe first teamed up with Superintendent Andy Dalziel in A Clubbable Woman. Time seems to have worked in a relative, different sense over the ensuing period, because Andy is still a Superintendent, but Peter is now a Detective Chief Inspector (although their roles are pretty much the same as ever). For the most part these books have set a standard for crime writing, but in more recent years some of them have not quite come off – the willing suspension of disbelief has not come easily for some of the plots. The Death of Dalziel teeters on the edge of this category.

The story is about terrorism and reactions to it. At the beginning of the book, Dalziel and Pascoe are blown up, and the Fat Man spends the rest of the book on the cusp of life and death. Pascoe has to carry on without his mentor, finding himself taking on many of his characteristics and ploys as he does so. The explosion, and subsequent deaths and other violence, seem to be down to a mysterious group calling itself the Knights Templar, who want to wreak revenge for the British deaths in the Iraq war. But are the security forces involved, and is this why they seem to want to divert Peter’s attentions? As usual, Ellie Pascoe, Peter’s wife, is heavily involved, as is Sergeant Wield and the more recent addition to the cast, PC Hector. All is resolved, not entirely convincingly, but its leavened with mid-Yorkshire humour and commonsense.

The book provides plenty of opportunities for set-piece commentaries on the security forces, TV debate shows, and literary agents, as well as some social commentary on attitudes to people of non-British origin in the climate of today. It is very well done, and the timing and flow of the action is impeccable. It’s just that some of the coincidences are too much so, and some of the characters are a bit over the top. But perhaps that’s not unexpected for the 22nd book in a series.

For a full list of Reginald Hill’s books see the Wikipedia entry or the HarperCollins site.