Robinson, Peter. Bad Boy.

NY: Morrow, 2010.

Twenty-three years ago, this author began a series of detective novels set in the Yorkshire Dales in the north of Britain (a region Londoners traditionally regard as being not far from the edge of the Earth), featuring a prickly, mavericky detective inspector named Alan Banks. He was a sort-of refugee from London himself, facing burnout after a series of physically wearing and emotionally draining cases, and hoping for some kind of redemption Up North. He arrived with a wife and two small children and set about learning the local ropes, which were quite different from the South. Even though I’m a “professional” reader, I somehow only discovered the series myself about three years ago and was almost immediately captivated by the character of now DCI Banks and the supporting players, by the author’s view of the Dales (he’s originally from there, of course), and by the cases with which the police force of Eastvale and environs have had to deal.Since time moves at a normal rate in this series, I have also watched Banks getting older, his wife becoming dissatisfied with their relationship and moving out, his love life becoming more complex and sometimes impinging on his professional life, his two kids growing up and going off to university and then out on their own, and the world they all knew gradually changing — and often not for the best. Banks now has a computer, can’t live without his mobile, and makes full use of the ubiquitous CCTV cameras that blanket his country. He’s been an Acting Superintendent for a spell, has built himself a local reputation, and knows the Dales as well as anyone not born there is ever likely to. And he’s recently had a couple of personal confrontations with contemporary terrorism.

So, now I’ve arrived at the present, in Banks’s nineteenth outing, and I’m slightly amazed. None of the books in the series has been less than good, most of them are very good, and probably a third are excellent. Though he has occasionally wavered (just a little), Robinson has not fallen into the trap of sequelitis. He hasn’t gotten tired of his characters or their lives, he hasn’t begun sitting back and phoning in his work. Which means he hasn’t begun boring his readers. In fact — again, unlike most authors of extended series — he has steadily improved from each book to the next. The characters have become deeper and more nuanced, the dialogue and description has become richer, the plots themselves have become very subtle and multi-layered and now often carry over into subsequent stories. And I find myself slightly annoyed that now, having caught up to Banks’s own present, I shall have to wait like everyone else for each year’s new novel.

Okay, so much for foreplay. Having recently slogged through some personal and professional trauma, Banks has gone off to the American Southwest on holiday, driving through (and walking in) the desert and ending up in San Francisco, which he discovers he loves. (Me, too.) And he finds that he can perhaps find peace within himself, that he can continue to deal with the world. But back in Leeds, things are happening. Tracy Banks, the DCI’s daughter, now in her early twenties and recently graduated with a very disappointing 2nd-level degree, has been working as a shop girl and slowly sliding into a questionable and even dangerous lifestyle of clubs and drugs. She was always the hard worker, the good daughter, the strong student, and the apple of her father’s eye — especially compared to her younger brother, Brian, who frustrated their father by leaving school to pursue a career with his guitar. But now Brian is becoming a rock star and Banks, a knowledgeable devotee of almost any sort of music, from opera to The Doors, is frankly thrilled. And Tracy is feeling restless and abandoned. Into her life comes Jaff, a handsome Bangladeshi with money and personality and a posh accent, and very much a “bad boy.” (I have to confess, I’ve never understood the attraction of women to men whom they know are going to treat them badly.) He’s been going with Tracy’s roommate, Erin, a girl she’s known since little-kid-hood, but after a fight, Erin steals a handgun she finds in Jaff’s flat and takes it with her to her parents’ house. Where her mother finds it, panics, and goes to the police station to seek help from Banks, the old family friend. Only Banks is in California. DI Annie Cabbot, who has been a mainstay for a number of books now — once Banks’s lover, now his partner — takes the call and refers it to her boss. Because possession of an unregistered firearm is a very, very serious business indeed in Britain and carries a mandatory prison sentence. When the specialists go in to retrieve the weapon, everything goes to pot and people die. It’s going to be one of those days. Meanwhile, Tracy has gone off to warn Jaff, who immediately goes on the run. The gun, of course, has a history and now he has to get out of the country, fast. And Tracy sets out on what she at first sees as an adventure with him, not understanding at all what’s she’s getting herself into, not knowing Jaff has close ties to a very unpleasant figure in Yorkshire organized crime. But she gets a good dose of reality while hiding out at her absent father’s cottage when Annie Cabbot is shot. And Banks returns from his holiday to be dropped straight into a nightmare of hostage-taking and endangered loved ones. But he’s a bit of a bad boy himself and both his superiors and the reader will be unsure whether he can behave himself under the circumstances. Can he separate his roles as detective and father? The story is gripping as it escalates in an entirely believable way on multiple fronts. And the final resolution is both unexpected and abrupt – and, in this case, it works. Things appear to be changing yet again for Banks and those around him. As almost always, an excellent book.

Published in: on 26 November 2010 at 6:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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