Filling the gap in my Banks log, I’ve just caught up with Peter Robinson‘s Not safe after dark; and other works (2004). Written between 1989 and 2004, it includes three Inspector Alan Banks stories and a novella – Going back – that reworks material used in The summer that never was, with Banks spending some time back in Peterborough with his parents, revisiting his teenage years (mulling over a box of old singles – the title has to refer to the Dusty Springfield version) and meeting up with an old flame. The novella is nicely done, meditative and moral without being overbearing, with a bit of crime fighting and love action on the side. Lots of music, of course, too much to detail here, as they swap old shared likes (Blind Faith!) and catch up with later stuff, not to mention Val Doonican (which I won’t). In his car stereo Banks has got Thelonius Monk, the Grateful Dead (but which album? – if we’re going to these lengths it matters) and Cecilia Bartoli singing Gluck. And good on him (Banks/Robinson!) for mentioning with affection Here we go round the mulberry bush, an underrated British film with a sixth former as hero from 1967 that still warms the cockles of expectation.
The short stories are a mixed bunch; in the ones involving Banks, the single suspicious deaths in each are relatively straightforward and solved with the minimum of other plot distractions. Summer rain revisits the ’60s again, and starts off as lightly as any from the Robinson/Banks oeuvre that I can recall – man walks into a police station, says he’s been murdered in a previous life – but ends sadly. For all its shortness, we still get Michael Nyman’s music from The Piano, Mussorgsky’s Great gate of Kiev and Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto. Eh? Anna said is neatly done, the murder method ingeniously painful psychologically to the survivor at liberty of a now reduced love triangle; haunting. Only musical mention: Furtwanger conducting Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, specifically a 1951 live recording from Bayreuth, “mono but magnificent”. What? I’ll have to read some Morse to see if this is satire or not, I guess. The final Banks story, The good partner, another devious murderous love tangle, unfortunately turns on a technological twist that I frankly doubt: do any cameras have anti-red-eye flash as the only option? But he does have Miles Davis’s Birth of the cool in the car.
Interestingly, there is no music in the 15 short stories that don’t feature our music loving tec. I liked the fairly unpleasant title story least of all, one of the 5 in which the narrator or central character ends up becoming a murderer; in another a man sets out to achieve this but is preempted, murdered himself. In three other stories, three of the better ones, the investigator is moved to ‘let things lie’ and the crime goes unpunished. A variety of locations and periods figure. I found the contemporary North American ones the least convincing, never transcending their crime short story genre status – and coincidences abound – but I’m glad to have read, in particular, three stories with not so ancient historical settings. Murder in Utopia is set in a progressive Victorian industrial community, while, though set in famililiar Banks Yorkshire territory, Thomas Hardy makes an appearance in The two ladies of Rose Cottage. Best of the bunch is In Flanders Fields, in which two tragic tales from the First World War reach a dreadful denouement in the Second. Haunting in a nother way.
And while we’re here, DCI Banks has just returned to tv screens, despite an earlier overwrought and pretty bad pilot, and – what do you know? – is showing a marked improvement. So rather than await the next episode with some apprehension (if at all) I can now safely say I’m looking forward to the next couple of two-parters. In the Playing with fire adaptation Stephen Tompkinson as Banks pulls it off; not sure what has changed, but the whole thing rings truer (even if there is not a hint of the music).
While we’re on the subject of TV crime series, I mention The body farm, not for anything special about it as a show – it’s all right, though Keith Allen as the good bad cop (or should that be bad good cop) is always worth watching – but to high-five Radio Times tv critic Alison Graham yet again for just being on our side. The body farm starts, before the opening title sequence, with deep and meaningless philosophical gibberish. Over to Alison, for tonight’s (Sept 27) episode:
“In pursuit of the truth, we must protect the unknown, there must be a pristine separation of fact from fiction.” Er, yes, all right Dr Eve Lockhart, if you say so. And, by the way, who are you talking to when you hurl out these nuggets of wisdom, unseen, over the opening scenes of every lurid episode? The neighbour putting out her washing? A pet monkey?
Elsewhere in the same issue, Alison admits, under the heading Words of wisdom:
[…] I have become a teeny bit obsessed with the preposterous nuggets-of-nothing that Dr Eve Lockhart (Tara Fitzgerald) intones over the opening minutes. [She gives three examples]. To me these sound like someone has dropped a box of words, accidentally hoovered them up, then emptied them out on to the carpet. As Stephen Fry points out elsewhere in this issue, the English language is a beautiful thing, people. Stop mucking about with it.
Indeed. You would have thought all Tara F, made to say the words, had to do was say, WTF? and that should have been an end to it.