I’ve come round to DCI Banks, the television adaptations, now in their 2nd series, of Peter Robinson‘s Inspector Banks sequence of novels. I’ve managed to divorce Stephen Tompkinson (and his height) from his other myriad roles, and, stripped of the specifics that riddle the books, the tv team seem to have arrived at the essence of the man and the case in hand, benefiting from the visual short hand, from the lack of prose needed to set a scene. Not that the tv shows are that strong on the sense of place you get in the books, but we’re not exactly competing with Heartbeat, for which much thanks.
The page here at Lillabullero, collecting my various postings – some systematic – covering the whole sequence of books featuring Alan Banks, has been one of the most visited on the site. As you might see, I drifted into a format when catching up on the earlier titles, and I’ll try to stick to that – albeit expanded – here.
I need to say that I read Watching the dark (Hodder, 2012) pretty much straight through and with enthusiasm, and that I eagerly await whatever comes next in the saga. Peter Robinson, for all my reservations about his unspectacular, at times mundane, prose and dialogue, keeps the flow going superbly and the compassion that makes Banks special is still in evidence. But it strikes me that, just as in the previous Banks novel two years ago, Banks has stabilised – he’s getting on – and interests his creator less than before. The book really comes alive with the women – old flame and colleague Annie Cabbot, of course, but also the new woman, Joanna from professional Standards, plus a returnee from the books of yore. (The same thing happened with Ian Rankin and Siobhan, I think.)
I shall also record here my belief that real life, the post-Glasnost growth of East European crime gangs in Europe has not been particularly advantageous to British crime fiction – character seems to be lost – and the Complaints, or the Professional Standards crew are becoming somewhat tedious as plot drivers. In Watching the dark Robinson does manage to transcend their dead hand for a lot of the time at least . Anyway …
Themes and settings: The usual Yorkshire Moors plus Estonia. The exploitation of migrant workers doubled with vicious loan sharking and unsolved disappearances abroad. East European crime gangs, police corruption, the Complaints (Professional standards).
Murderee/s: Ageing detective, Bill Quinn, crossbowed in a police convalescent home; Corrigan, a gang boss; Rachel, a young woman who hadn’t returned from a hen night in Talinn 6 years previously.
Boss: Area Commander Catherine Gervaise. (Banks likes and respects her).
Music: The book’s title is from a 3CD Richard Thompson retrospective box set. Mournful, contemplative, on the whole, not much joy. Mainstream classical plus modern composers like Arvo Pärt; nigglingly specifying particular performers. Some folk (June Tabor’s Ashore album), some cool jazz. Too much to list in full, but:
- Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, 4th choral movement. (“Was this something that happened when you got older? Failing eyesight, mysterious aches and pains, enjoying Mahler? Would Wagner be next?”)
- on the ritual visit to Leeds HMV, Banks purchases Kate Royal’s A lesson in love (soprano, lieder) and Martin Carthy
- folk night at the Dog & Gun: Penny Cartwright, folk singer from back in the second book, performing; subject matter of folk song addressed; she does Dylan’s Red River Shore and a version of Pulp’s Common people, which works but “he’d never been able to take Jarvis Cocker seriously” !! What??
Distinguishing characteristics: as a novel it comes most alive – until the Estonia trip really gets going – with the women. Winsome tells him he’s being childish about the Complaints. But see also Food and Drink below.
State of marriage/relationships: Nothing happening really. Nods of memories for ex-wife Sandra and Annie Cabbot; you half expect it, but not even much of a frisson with Joanna from Professional Standards (the next book, maybe?). The folk singer interests him, briefly: “He thought of Penny again and knew he shouldn’t read anything into her friendly behaviour. It was just her way; she was a free spirit, a bit flirtatious, mischievous. Still, he couldn’t help but hope. It seemed that nothing had cured him of that. Not Sandra. Not Annie. Not Sophia.”
Food and drink: consumption down. Pretty much off the whisky, though knocking back the wine (“He did his best thinking when he was listening to music and drinking wine.”). Greggs sausage rolls and grabbed snacks Prèt. Shandy because he’s driving, refuses a second. Still favours Black Sheep ale. He’s actually got camomile and green tea as well as Earl Grey in the cottage.
- “Banks would get along with Nobby very well, Annie thought. He placed as much value in the vague and philosophical...”
- “Sometimes Banks wondered whether there was any innocence left in the world, and he felt terribly old.”
- Corrigan is “Just another in the long line of sad, tired, cocky, depressing villains that seemed to be Banks’s daily round.”
- Rachel’s parents’ house is “… tragic in its ordinariness.”
- “Joanna laughed. ‘Oh, you’re not as bad as you like to make out. There’d be no point doing a report on you. Nothing to put in it. Boring.”
- Annie: “He was crap at presents, Banks, but at least he tried.”
Pedant’s corner: The prose. I may be being picky here, but does this description of Banks’s relationship with his dead brother’s Porsche – “Now it was getting a bit shabby and starting to feel comfortable, like a favourite old jacket, jeans, or a pair of gloves […]” – really need all three articles of apparel? Too many words here, too: “Her jeans were not the kind you had to put on with a shoehorn, but they certainly showed off the curves of her hips, rear end and legs.” Never mind unnecessary – go back and read some Raymond Chandler.