I picked up on Peter Robinson’s series of novels featuring Alan Banks, set in the Yorkshire Dales, fairly late in the game, after reading a review of Aftermath, and I have continued to welcome each new title with some enthusiasm since. Banks is an interesting character – another music loving maverick cop in the established British tradition of Ian Rankin’s Rebus and John Harvey’s Resnick, but one from an English working class provincial background. So I thought it might be worth delving into the back catalogue chronologically to see how things had developed from the beginning.
And fascinating it has proved too, bringing into focus all manner of things, like the evolutionary process behind the creation of a character (and what gets left behind), the growth of a writer’s confidence and his ongoing deployment of narrative techniques, not to mention the perils of incorporating technological change into the mechanism of a story.
As it happens, Aftermath is where the September 2010 ITV television adaptions of the books starts. One carries a picture of a familiar character in a book and I’m afraid Stephen Tompkinson, who I’ve nothing against as an actor, is nowhere near mine. Mind, I can’t think of anyone else who fits with the book as well as Ken Stott did when they finally got Rebus right on screen. The height discrepency – Banks 5’9″, Tompkinson reportedly 6’2″ – is an odd casting decision, and we got very little of the sense of place – hardly a shot of the Yorkshire Dales and no views of Eastvale’s market square – all big components in what makes the books so compulsive.
The TV Series
Given the increase in visits this page gets whenever the TV show airs, a few things probably need to be stressed (Feb, 2014):
- When the tv show says “Based on” a certain book it should say “Very loosely based on”. Wenesday’s child, for instance, may, like the book, start with a child abduction by phony social workers, but in the book it’s a younger girl and much that follows is just not in that book (though elements may – bear with me, I’m working on memory here – have crept in from other books, like the ice cream vans?)
- Unlike the books, which develop chronologically, the tv shows have been adapted randomly, so all sorts of character elements and development are at best obscured, like the state of Banks’ marriage and subsequent love life, and his relationship with his children.
- Similarly Annie Cabot is a constant in the TV shows though she only appears at a certain stage in the books. Also, she has a fascinating back story – that she grew up in an artists/hippy commune in Cornwall is only a part of it – that the TV hasn’t touched on. The TV people are right, though, in picking up that she is the most compelling of Banks’s friends and colleagues in the books, but she first appears in the tenth book in the sequence, In a dry season, whereas Wednesday’s child, for instance, is only the sixth.
- So many of the queries that I see lending up here on this page arising from the TV series may well not be found here because it is based purely on the books. Not that I’m not pleased you’re here! Feel free to stay and stick around.
- And sorry, no: I can’t remember who the father of Annie Cabot’s baby is. This seems to be one of the more specific questions that come up time and again in leading people here to Lillabullero. I don’t appear to have logged it here and if memory serves me right, it was a brief emotionally insignificant fling with someone off-stage, so to speak. Not Alan, for sure. If anyone’s got the answer, do let us know.
- updated Feb 20, 2014. In the – again very loose – tv adaptation of Piece of my heart shown last night, the father of Annie’s baby is revealed to be one David Hornsby, a lawyer, and it does indeed appear he and Annie have never been close. Sorry, I still haven’t a clue if this is taken from this particular book or which other book. Again, if anyone can clear this up, then I’d like to know.
- in the book Bad Boy it is Annie Cabot who is leading the team – because Banks is on holiday – when something goes wrong; in the tv adaptation it is Annie who is investigating what went wrong and Banks is still around. Annie is on the ‘Complaints’/A12/whatever in another novel in the sequence altogether.
- Series 3 seems to be inhabiting an alternative universe to the books. The story lines are not even loosely drawn from the books and they are pretty flat police procedurals most of the time. Annie’s baby makes a reappearance and there’s a romantic cliffhanger of an end. Will she, won’t she? I was only watching out of habit after seeing the first one. No music!
- the 2016 series carries on in this parallel universe, with the team seemingly operating out of Leeds, the soap opera of Annie’n’Alan foregrounded. Intriguing crime plots, but still not a hint of the culture loving tec of the books. And after Scott and Bailey the interrogations seem, well, am-dram.
- Alan’s character is reduced to angry, determined, or grim, and that’s about it. No life or interests outside of work. The books succeed because of his whole, fleshed out existence.
- and with episode 5 of the 2016 tv series we leave the world of the books completely, with the death of Annie Cabot; not sure it can survive another series without her.
- November 2016 it was announced that the TV show had been put out of its misery. There will be no Sixth Series. It really had nowhere to go.
First entries in the blog, starting with ‘Gallows view‘, were freeform but it soon became apparent that some sort of template would be useful. This page is a compilation of those blog posts. As of now (July, 2010) I have pretty much caught up with where I started and I don’t know if I will carry on with the enterprise – there’s so much else to read – but the arrival of Banks on the television screen, with ‘Aftermath’ as it happens might prompt me back, just to see how badly they’ve played around with it. No disrespect to Stephen Tompkinson, but I have my doubts.
In the spring of 2013 I re-read Aftermath, and have given that a full formulaic treatment, which you can find below, in sequence.
It must be mentioned that Peter Robinson has a splendid website of his own, including links to Spotify playlists of the music referenced in some of the novels. He can furthermore can claim to be a major contributor to the ‘The Kinks in literature‘ pages right here at Lillabullero.
I’ve just become aware (June 2013) of another website that dovetails nicely with this page. It deals with the Banks books in a more methodical way than I do here, giving a brief plot summary of the books and each individual short story featuring Alan Banks. There’s also an alphabetical list of recurring characters in the books that is currently a work in progress. I don’t know who the writer is, but he or she is good enough to give this site a plug (“a DCI Banks page I wish I had written” – no less, I modestly quote, for which: muchos gracias) and provide a link. A favour which I now return. Here’s the link to Chase Side’s Peter Robinson pages:
Let the journey commence:
I’ve decided to go back to the beginning of Peter Robinson‘s sequence of crime novels featuring detective Alan Banks and read them chronologically, at least up until I picked up on them. Surprised to discover that they started as long ago as 1987, with Banks only just arrived in the Yorkshire Dales from London with little back story but on a serious opera binge, a source of some amusement and a nod and a wink to Morse no doubt. Should be an interesting project, archaeological almost; there are many hints of what was to blossom, not least meeting psychological profiler Jenny Fuller so early on in the sequence. Gallows View labours a bit, with the dialogue taking in a discussion of the feminist agenda on rape stilted, but the quality of plotting was obviously there with Robinson from the start. What did strike me, reading these two books back to back, is the technological change we so easily take for granted. In Gallows View there what was then the liberation of listening to cassettes in the car while driving, while the mobile phone doesn’t yet warrant a mention. I’m betting some of the early appearances of the internet and email in crime fiction are really gonna clunk now.
A dedicated man
Just over half way into A dedicated man Banks is described as “a copper with socialist leanings … a paid thinker” – establishing the way forward for future volumes. Still a way to go, though, in establishing the man as the compelling character he is these days, here lumbered with being a failing pipe smoker and an attempted signature shortness of height, opera giving way to English vocal music in this one. Parts of it don’t ring true – the 16-year-old sleuthing for a start – and having a crime writer appear is a bit premature I would have thought, but the folk singer makes for an engaging passage or two and the plot twists and turns satisfactorily enough, the sense of place getting richer.
A necessary end
There’s a painter in the hippy commune – Maggie’s Farm – at the centre of the third of Inspector Banks mysteries, which sees Peter Robinson broadening his canvas to take in the, um, alternative society, and the death of a cop in a demonstration. Dialogue is not one of Robinson’s strengths, and the politicos in this ring somewhat hollow. In an abrupt change Banks, now has blues music in his car cassette stereo – kicks off with ‘Broke down engine’, no less – but we still haven’t met his wife and kids, away in London and his boss is still playing with his dry-stone wall. They send someone up from the Met to take charge; the basic signifier that he’s a rotten apple is he drinks the evil keg beer Double Diamond (did that still exist in 1989? – surely lager had taken over?). The actual denouement is a sad little tale, a neat twist. A long way from: “Oh for a nice English village murder, Banks wished, just like the ones in books; a closed group of five or six suspects, a dodgy will, and no hurry to solve the puzzle. No such luck.” Ah, intertextuality; that’s not a bad description of his previous novel. The landscapes of North Yorkshire are further explored, and there’s an awful lot of pints get downed; someone should do a count across the whole genre – who’s the biggest drinker?
The hanging valley
The hanging valley suffers a bit from, oh I don’t know, fourth novel syndrome or something. How else to explain the early lectures in forensics and the diversionary trip to Canada with accompanying travelogue? Inspector Banks’ wife and kids are back in Yorkshire but are hardly a narrative presence as yet. The story works well enough, Banks’s working class credentials emerging and it’s all getting a bit darker, but the ending is too abrupt – in the later books I’m sure it would merit a coda. There’s compassion for the central character of Katie Greenock (and nods to Thomas Hardy’s Tess), the music in the car cassette player this time around is decent ’60s (Traffic, Beatles, the Kinks’ ‘Lola’) and there’s so much lighting up of cigarettes – Robinson could write more sparingly and lose nothing – I’m coughing on the smoke. Frankly it’s a wonder Banks is still around, though I seem to recall he struggles to give up in later books, which is always a useful hook.
Past reason hated
Themes and settings: lesbians, amateur dramatics, the modern-day composer
Music: mostly interesting 20th century classical (Bartok, Milhaud, Messiaen, Madame Butterfly) though a vinyl Vivaldi features as maybe a clue at the murder scene
Distinguishing characteristics: empathy (the train journey to London with the bereaved partner), a deeper emotional involvement with people living difficult lives; the introduction of a woman DC to his team, which is losing its anonymity, developing a presence in this book as a team
State of marriage/relationship: wife & kids back in Eastvale but she’s busy with her art project
Quotes: why he’s not the greatest writer of prose – “great lumps of grey slush in the gutters”
Any other thoughts: closer in plot to a conventional whodunnit; still an awful lot of working meetings in pubs.
Themes and settings: lumpenproletariat, child abduction & abuse, psychopathy
Music: mostly scattered background and other people’s stuff; he’s variously listening to Ivor Gurney (must seek out), Schubert songs and other solo piano (Chopin, Mozart) while his son is discovering the blues
Distinguishing characteristics: increasing psychological depth of Banks, his motivation, introspection. For this, it’s the best book so far. “You always did have a chip on your shoulder when it came to the rich and influential, didn’t you?” – right on! And there are hints of humour breaking through. Also a certain historical resonance (the Moors murderers) is new.
State of marriage/relationship: empty nestdom approaches, son at uni, daughter discovering boys, wife distant and querying where their marriage is going, still busy with her art gallery
Quotes: “The best coppers, Banks thought, are the ones who hang onto their humanity against all the odds.”
Any other thoughts: quaintness of the computer references – only one guy on the team can use them and he reads SF – Philip K.Dick & Roger Zelazny (tasty!). Actually, a fair number of literary nods: John Cowper Powys & ‘Weymouth Sands’! Robinson is weakest, least convincing, on the mother whose child is missing – “slattern” indeed. Looking out of his office at the market square now a constant, a leitmotif even. For a police procedural no great sense of the enormous search effort involved when a child goes missing.
Dry bones that dream
Themes and settings: double lives, money laundering, hired muscle, homosexuality, dodgy Caribbean politics & UK realpolitik; there’s a lot of Leeds in this one.
Music: wide-ranging piano music – Dr John, Bach transcriptions, Bill Evans, Satie (to keep him calm); a Thelonius Monk piece “pushed his ears to the limits of endurance”. Fair bit of obscure name dropping classical. Good looking viola player significant to plot – see also below.
Distinguishing characteristics: I said increasing psychological depth of Banks last time and I say it again. He drunkenly loses it when confronted by a couple of mild muggers – the violence jointly driven by his guilt at lascivious thoughts of aforementioned viola player and what has happened to her (she’s been badly beaten) because of his carelessness. The plot driven more effectively by alternating chapters of what Banks is doing and what his team – Susan & non-PC bloke – is doing.
State of marriage/relationship: see above (those were serious thoughts). Attempts to breathe life into his marriage through the claimed erotic power of Khatchaturian‘s ‘Piano Concerto’. Only a matter of time before big developments here I’d say, but then I’ve read some of the later books anyway. (I’ll maybe report back on the Khatchaturian).
Quotes: “Banks often regretted that humans hadn’t been born with the capacity to close their ears as they did their eyes” – that’s Engelbert Humperdinck on the radio. “In a period when a fully functioning heart was regarded as a severe disability” – Thatcherism. And a silly one (not the only one, actually), displaying the perils to the writer of technological change, as Banks boasts, “I’ve got one of those plastic cards, the ones you use to get money at the hole in the wall.”
Any other thoughts: Banks revealed to be 41 and 5’9″ tall, which is taller than you’d have thought given the first couple of books made a running joke of his shortness. And he’s an Arsenal fan. Still smoking heavily. The re-appearance of the dark side of policing in lager drinking Dirty Dick Burgess. Books again used as signifiers; Banks himself is into T.S.Eliot, and reading Evelyn Waugh and a Trollope bio. Published in the US as ‘Final account‘.
I said I’d report back on the erotic potential of Khachaturian‘s Piano Concerto, claims for which are made by novelist Peter Robinson – or at least by his detective alter ego, Alan Banks – in one of his books. Nah. I’ve given it three goes now, but my attention wandered fairly quickly and indeed, allowed the CD to drift onto other material which sounded more interesting, actually, un-specifically. “Why are you listening to this?” Andrea asked – too much plinking and plunking (more plunking actually) for her and I have to agree – not that I was playing it with any intent.
Themes and settings: the successful and rich part of town; unhappy vicarage life; Croatian immigrants; the power of false accusation
Music: mostly classical & briefly (Strauss Four Last Songs; Britten War Requiem discussed), some really quite obscure and specific (eg. Barber setting of ‘Dover beach’ sung by Upshaw); Hendrix on his Walkman to wake him up
Murderee/s: young teenager at posh girl’s school; another teenage girl
Distinguishing characteristics: a lot more of the police procedural and a trial; as well as other coppers owning chapters we now have the main suspect’s point of view and a concern for what can happen to the genuinely not guilty after a trial. ‘Jimmy’ Riddle, his boss’s boss and a mason, emerging as a problem.
State of marriage/relationship: wife hardly mentioned, just there in the background. All three attractive women from earlier books – psychologist Jenny, classical musician (“Erotic fantasies aside it was all perfectly innocent”) and folksinger (a spine tingling version of Dylan’s ‘St Augustine’) – make an appearance but nothing’s going on. He’s trying to cut down on his smoking.
Quotes:“Sometimes he wished he had the freedom and power of certain other police forces in certain other countries – the freedom and power to torture and beat the truth out of Jelacic, for example – but only sometimes.”
And this beauty from page 324 of the Pan pbk:
‘Look. I’m getting sick and tired of your severely limited vocabulary. Know what we ought to do with people like you instead of community service or jail? I think we ought to have compulsory education for gobshites like you who spent so much time blitzed on model airplane glue that they never set foot in school more than a couple of weeks a year. Know what I’d do? I’d make you read the dictionary, for a start. At least ten new words a day. And spelling tests. Every morning, first thing after slopping out. a dozen lashes for every word you got wrong. Literature too, lots of it. Austen, Hardy, Dickens, Trollope, George Eliot. Long books. Poetry, as well – Wordsworth, Shelley, Dryden, Milton. And Shakespeare, John. tons and tons of Shakespeare. Memorizing poems and long, lovely speeches. Analyzing the imagery in Macbeth and Othello. Sound like fun?’
‘I’d rather be in fucking jail’
Any other thoughts: Dickensian opening in a foggy cemetary. The writing’s getting better. Rebecca, the vicar’s wife nicely drawn, her tests of faith. He’s moving into ‘state of the nation’ territory.
Themes and settings (beyond Eastvale & the Dales): far right political groups, drug dealing, police & race relations; Leeds again & a nostalgic working trip to Amsterdam
Murderee/s: young fascist Jason Fox
Music: too much to list in full, really, many and varied (but see the quote below); I daresay Abdullah Ibrahim doesn’t get too many mentions in crime novels – the man has taste; book opens with opera-going as source on conflict in his marriage (Bizet’s ‘Pearl fishers’); couple of live bands (one Oi) & son Brian in a blues band; murderee’s father a vinyl collector but not a music lover; a stoned romantic memory of ‘Sad eyed lady of the lowlands’; earlier radio memories of Uncle Mac & Brian Matthew.
Distinguishing characteristics: the conflict with his boss’s boss, Jimmy Riddle – fast track, mason – is out in the open; some powerful writing after Banks thumps him. Colleague Susan getting more of the game.
State of marriage/relationship: he’s in denial for most of the book about the collapse of his marriage; colleague Susan getting a touch of the Siobhans for her boss (a la Rebus)
Quotes: “Karaoke. Banks felt himself shudder at the thought. the only other words that had a similar effect on him were country-and-western music. An oxymoron if ever there was one.” (p12, pbk edition)
“Banks stood by the phone for a moment, head in his hands, tears burning in his eyes. Then he did what any reasonable man would do in his situation. He cranked Mozart‘s Requiem up as loud as he could bear it and got rat-arse drunk.” (p289)
Any other thoughts: continuing with the team approach to develop the narrative; the re-appearance of Dirty Dick Burgess; Banks trying to cut down on his smoking. The perils of a writer introducing new technology – a really embarrassing discussion about the internet. Banks “doing his Columbo impersonation”. Also published in the US as Blood at the root.
In a dry season
Themes and settings: the sunken village of Hobb’s End in the Yorkshire Dales, revealed in a hot summer as the reservoir runs dry. World War 2 in the Dales and London. Friendship, loyalty, the consequences of good intentions, judgement, family. Why the police as a career?
Murderee/s: a Land Girl, body revealed decades after the murder.
Music: Banks appears whistling Carmen but the music is various and all over the place, mostly classic ’60s and Classical but still keeping country music at bay. An actual Bob Dylan album features in a sub-sub-plot and he makes more than one mention; son Brian likes the songs, not the voice. Possibly the most obscure yet: Herbert Howell’s ‘Hymnis paradisi’ and an interesting sounding Don Cherry album – ‘Eternal now’ – that is going for just under £50 third party new on Amazon. This is getting silly. Banks goes to see son Brian’s rock band, ‘The dancing pigs’; some sort of multi-faceted crossover blues based ensemble.
Distinguishing characteristics: by now Banks is working in a no smoking office (“health fascists”) and trying to cut down on fags and booze. Fellow rogue cop Annie Cabot enters the scene! I’ve probably said this before, but this reallyis the book where Robinson takes off, approaches literature. At least three voices at play in the narrative here, including a memoir from the past. More about Banks’s background and back story; his dad’s concern that the police are the enemies of the working class; Banks’s take on the ’60s expanded (“... had never committed himself fully to the spirit of the times”). Emotion and compassion.
State of marriage/relationships: Banks is in pieces after his wife has upped and left, depressed, lonely, introspective, listening to Leonard Cohen and ‘Blood on the tracks’. But here comes Annie. I don’t think Robinson really knew what to do with wife Sandra and previous female sidekick Sue wasn’t really going anywhere, but DC Ann Cabot comes alive on the page. She grew up in a hippy artists commune in Cornwell: “You could never get any privacy. That’s why I value it so much now. And how many times can a grown person listen to ‘White rabbit’.” To Banks: “You’re a loner like me.”
Quotes: On Banks’s motivation:“With Banks, it wasn’t some abstract notion of justice, or being on the side of ‘good’ and putting the ‘bad’ guys away. He wasn’t naïve enough to see the police as good, for a start, or even all criminals as bad […] When it came right down to it, Banks believed that most violent criminals were bullies, and ever since he was a kid he had detested bullies.”
An astute old colleague on Banks: “The kind of detective who cares just a bit too much about every victim. The kind of bloke who falls a little bit in love with every woman he sleeps with.”
On the books of the crime writer who plays a significant part in ‘In a dry season’:
“Banks laughed […] “I can’t say I’ve read any.”“I have,” said Blackstone. “Seen them on the telly too. She’s actually a very talented writer. Hasn’t a clue about how we really operate, of course, but then none of them do.”
“It’d make for some pretty boring books if they did.”
Any other thoughts: another crime novelist in attendance (a nod to John Harvey in a bookshop scene too); another commune; another artist (Stanhope in Hobb’s End, Stanley Spencerish) or two (Annie’s dad). More literary references and books as signifiers. “Hardy heroine eyes” – not the first Hardy mention; Banks reading an anthology of twentieth century poetry.
Cold is the grave
Themes and settings: London gangsters, organised crime. Porn & drugs trade. Punk. Jealousy, Memories, Guilt.
Murderee/s: only the difficult boss’s daughter, ex-runaway wild child Emily Riddle back home in Yorkshire. Couple of low grade crims.
Music: much and varied as usual, though less obscure. Certain theme of naming good looking female classical performers. Joy Division joke (“I’d commit suicide if I sounded like him” says Emily). Mozart and Faure again. At a certain emotional stage Banks plays Richard Thompson’s ‘Shoot out the lights’ “louder than usual”. Early punk scene in London emerges as central to the plot.
Writers: Packs Simenon’s Maigret: “He didn’t usually read crime novels … someone had once told him he had a lot in common with Maigret”. Changes it for Chandler’s ‘The big sleep’ when his plans are changed for him – London, not Paris. Contemplates Graham Greene on the train ride to MK going through Berkhamsted. A quiet night in Kate Atkinson & Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall. Evelyn Waugh (again). Delia for Xmas catering.
Distinguishing characteristics: potent mix of families, various parents and children. Contemplation of friends missing or dead from Banks’ earlier life as a schoolboy in Peterborough – previously hinted at but more detail now – and as a student in Notting Hill.
State of marriage/relationships: Banks still thinks he’s in with a chance of getting back with wife Sandra; finally disabused of this. The splendid Annie Cabot has dumped him – too much baggage – but she’s now on his team at work and they’re OK. Powerful bit of writing, his turning down of Riddle’s wife Rosalind’s seduction attempt
Quotes: Annie: “You’re so straight in some ways, but there’s a definite bohemian edge to you” (p389).
He quotes John Donne, then: “Each case took a little bit more of his soul, or so he felt […] It didn’t matter what anyone said about not becoming personally involved with cases, Banks thought. You had to be personally involved; there had to be something more at stake than mere crime statistics.” (p218/9)
“Why do you have to take the burden on yourself like this? Why is everything your fault? Why do you think if you only acted differently you could prevent people being killed?” (p430)
Finally, to Rosalind, but he could be telling himself: ‘ “If we all knew the consequences of every decision we made, we’d probably never make any,” said Banks.’
Pedants’ corner: P56 Not sure a young woman would own CDs by Sheryl Crow, Beth Orton & Pj Harvey and others Banks has never heard of and read books by Catherine Cookson and Rosamunde Pilcher. Fair on Stony Stratford when Banks visits though I’m not sure a funky photographer would have recommended The Plough for lunch. There’s a Dancing Pigs (son Brian’s band) CD in a student’s collection but later Brian gives Banks a copy of what he says is his first CD but they’re now called Jimson Weed.(p287)
Any other thoughts: Keeping up the good work. Poignancy even. Even more twists – and a good one involving the bith of punk – than usual. Heady stuff with Riddle and his wife, highflyer Riddle revealed as being jealous of Banks as a detective; Riddle had devoured Green Penguin Crime as a child. Rosalind Riddle a really strong and emotive portrayal; Robinson’s good on strong women with a vulnerable side; Banks’s wife never made flesh, really. Maybe I should have had a Whisky category here too. Hard to see how Banks’s past – Peterborough, London, will get any resonance on TV.
Annie Cabot (unfairly) on Banks’ musical tastes (from Bad boy):“Alan? Yes he does have a bit of a reputation. I can’t say I’ve got a clue what he’s listening to half the time. Some of it sounds pretty good, but some of it, well, to put it frankly, it just sounds like a bull with a a pain in the testicles to me.”
I doubt I’ll find the time to conclude the sequence as formatted above.
Aftermath is where I came in. For the later titles
I’ve just cut and pasted what I blogged at the time.
Seems I could be briefer then.
For completions sake … a transcription from the pre-website scribbled journal, no less. Serial killing couple … her background of abuse. Often shocking. Multi-stranded – the woman cop who finds the last dead girl. the woman over the road recovering from abuse … her experiences as a media victim. The east coast village, scene of the original case. Banks approaching burnout … The girl who they assumed was part of the pattern. Quality. The rapist raped [?] … and losing it.
And here’s a formulaic return to Aftermath done in June 2013. It’s a particularly long treatment, one I justify by pointing to it’s import in the development of Banks’ life and career:
Themes and settings: Serial killers (á la Fred & Rosemary West); abuse – domestic, sexual and child – and the damage done; psychological profiling; excessive police force.
Leeds, Hull, Lincolnshire coast and Eastvale.
Murderee/s: 6 young blonde women, 1 policeman.
Music: Aftermath shares its title with a Rolling Stones album. There’s a lot of classical music, mostly seen as balm to soothe the battered breast. Zelenka Trios help keep him calm on a journey. Banks sees a broken mirror at a murder scene: “Seven years of bad luck. Hendrix‘s ‘Roomful of mirrors‘ would never seem quite same again.” Solace after more horror with Rostropovic playing Bach Cello suites. Invents Belzebub’s Bollocks as tame cod satanic rock band that a victim goes to see. Jenny’s Tosca trauma means they settle for some Mozart String Quartets one evening. Late Schubert piano sonata to calm a headache. With Jenny in the car Elgar‘s Enigma variations. Savage Garden on a pub jukebox. In the cottage: Duke Ellington – Come Sunday from Black, Brown and Beige. Dylan: It’s not dark yet. Coital and post-coital Van Morrison: Astral weeks. Vaughan-Williams: Variations on a theme by Thomas Tallis on the radio (“but he wasn’t listening”). Maggie (see below) listening to a Baroque classics compilation “to calm down.” At the end he’s knackered, listening to Thais and specifically “the famous Meditation”; so famous I had to look up that it’s an opera by Massenet; Meditation sounds like something you’d hear behind a sad sometimes melodramatic silent movie – still worth a listen, though.
Writers (intertextuality): quotes Robert Herrick in describing Jenny Fuller (see below). Maggie’s therapy throws up Coleridge‘s Dejection: an ode. Grimm‘s Fairy Tales – Maggie is illustrating them. Teenage memories of reading the Pan horror story anthologies and “steamy bestsellers” (Carpet Baggers, Peyton Place). John Wyndham: The Midwich Cuckoos (“He’s quite good. For a science fiction writer that is.”) – quoted by a teacher in the context of a particular family. Reading Group coffee is spiked and someone “was sick all over her Margaret Atwood.” Maggie is reading the short stories of Alice Munro.
Alcohol: Laphroaig whisky. Theakston’s in the Queens Arms. Jenny’s anonymous red wine. A pre-interview shandy. More Laphroaig.
Distinguishing characteristics: i. A lot of time given to the role of Maggie, the neighbour of the multiple murder scene. Reclusive after escaping domestic abuse in Canada, she’s a graphic artist working on a treatment of Grimm’s fairy tales. Strong, educated, she plays a big part in the story away from the police narrative.
ii. The red herring of Leanne’s local murder, a case that never should have been thrown so easily into the mix.
State of marriage/relationships: He’s still missing his wife Sandra, dragging his feet over signing the divorce papers, which he does eventually. Jenny Fuller (forensic psychologist) very much around, hot for him, but just another near thing for them. Annie Cabbot, now on Complaints. Talk (by him) of ‘a quickie’ but – no. “Are you two still an item?” someone asks; “Sort of” is his reply. The comfort and familiarity – “becoming like an old married couple” – is frightening her away. Even so, they do end up in bed again (see Music above and Any Other Thoughts below). But by the end just friends: he brings too much “baggage”. “Sad as he felt at the end of their romance, he felt some relief too.”
Rank: Acting Detective Superintendent (Gristhorpe has had a drystone walling accident) and the strain is showing. Towards the end he’s feeling as burnt out as he’d done just before leaving London for Yorkshire.
Quotes: p21 (Pan pbk ed) “No, what got to him most of all was the pity of it all, the deep empathy that he had come to feel with the victims of crimes he investigated. And he hadn’t become more callous, more inured to it all over the years as many did, and he had once thought he would. Each new one was like a raw wound reopening. Especially something like this.”
P115 “These days Banks also felt that he was approaching his own crisis point, though he had no idea where it was or what would happen when he got there.”
Jenny: “… but she also knew that he guarded his feelings when he wanted to and she would get nowhere if she pushed him …”
185 “Not a believer?” “My job makes it difficult.” (Later: “The supreme ironist in the sky.”)
245 “It was insensitive of him, but dammit, the woman irritated him.”
247 “... every case I work on I want to know what happened, who did it and why. I don’t always find out, but you’d be surprised how much I do learn. Sometimes it gets me into trouble. And I have to live with the knowledge, take it into my life, take it home with me. I’m that snowball rolling down the hill, only the pure snow’s run out and I’m picking up layer after layer of dirt and gravel just so you can sit safe and warm at home and accuse me of being some sort of Gestapo officer.”
Pedants’ corner: Nothing to complain about.
Any other thoughts: Opens with the graphic suffering of a victim in bleeding italics; so corny.
He just can’t do women’s bodies. P48: “Jenny had such lips as you rarely saw on anyone but a pouting French sex symbol, her figure tapered and bulged in all the right places, and her clothes … just seemed to flow over her. It was that ‘liquefaction of her clothes’, that the poet Herrick wrote about, the dirty old devil.” That Herrick quote should have been enough, so much more suggestive than all that cliched bulbous nonsense.
And do I really need to know about Annie’s breasts (glowing “in the dim light”) in any detail?
Apparently this was the breakthrough novel (and it’s where I started). The usual good dialogue driven narrative, but he’s no prose stylist.
The summer that never was
First off from the scribbled journal. I read it just like that in a weekend. He’s peaking. Some of the music details not quite perfect, but the gist is there. 1965 Peterborough and modern Yorkshire Moors, cases with parallels … or maybe not. The ’65 case was a young teenage buddy with East End villainy connections muscling in on a newsagent’s porn racket, a disappearance that has haunted Alan Banks with a sense of guilt. Much contemplation of growing up in the ’60s. And then we get the modern case, a sub Posh ‘n’ Becks and a young son a la Time & Jeff Buckley. That crime a series of events and discoveries twisting and turning. Great sense of place and character … Banks’s father, sold working class, has always had issues with his son’s choice of career. His son is in an indy band, while his ex-lover grew up in an artist/hippy commune in Cornwell; she’s a cop too. Excellent stuff.
And then, the first on the website, froma re-read. Peter Robinson has joined the ranks of those writers (along with Ian Rankin and Doris Lessing) who for me mean that most else goes by the board until I’ve finished the new book. His ‘The summer that never was’, the latest Inspector Alan Banks mystery is gripping stuff. Two crimes are at the centre of the book, one in contemporary North Yorkshire, the other 1965 Peterborough, and the mysterious disappearance of one of Banks’s young teenage friends. Cue a contemplation of growing up in the ’60s along with much else. Plot, character and place – fine stuff. (2011: I regret to say Doris has left the A-list)
Not safe after dark; and other works
Written between 1989 and 2004, this also includes 15 stories set in various locations and historical periods. There are three 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.
Playing with fire
Peter Robinson‘s new Inspector Banks mystery ‘Playing with fire‘ (Macmillan, 2004) creaks a bit too. The musical references, previouly interesting, are here something of an unconvincing empty ritual. There’s still good stuff in there though, not least in some of the incidental characters. At other times he’s coasting or parroting with the fire investigations and forensics. For all that, I read it just like that and he certainly sets up the next book interestingly enough. Could have done without one particular superfluously detailed sexual encounter too. Editor?
Same old same old. I read Peter Robinson’s ‘Strange affair : an inspector Banks mystery’ (Macmillan, 2005) as much out of habit as anything else. It’s all right, but I already tire of the east Europeans, people smuggling into prostitution as crime novel staple. And does every ‘tec have to have a dodgy brother, a daughter who’s had a hard time and a female colleague who threatens to get more interesting than the main man? The debt to Richard Thompson in the title is acknowledged, though it’s not essential, and not really an apposite soundtrack.
Piece of my heart
And so to Peter Robinson’s ‘Piece of my heart’ (Hodder, 2006), which has a 1969 rock festival and a band that’s an amalgamation of Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac with a dash of Led Zep at its narrative core. There’s not so much of his contemporary copper, Alan Banks, in this one, though he’s definitely souring on the young and the drunken Saturday night (and why not?). The denouement works well enough but the music and hippy pads seem flat to me, somehow fail to convince. The acid casualty recluse (hello Syd, hello Pete) seems too easy too, especially (though you can’t blame Robinson for the timing) in the light of of Syd Barrett’s recent sad death.
Friend of the devil
It all gets very dark in Peter Robinson‘s latest crime novel featuring Cheif Inspector Alan Banks, ‘Friend of the devil‘ (Hodder, 2007). This revisits one of his previous cases – indeed, more than one in passing – and, thinking about it, Banks has really been through an awful harrowing lot; he does get more woman action than Rebus and John Harvey’s various protagonists though. It’s compulsive stuff in the end, though the pacing, particularly at the start, can be annoying with its un-necessarily abrupt changing of location and personal; it’s hard to see a logic in the spacing of the chapters and the breaks within chapters. At one time Rankin, Harvey and Robinson seem to have been in some sort of competition as far as the dropping in of musical references goes; the others have retreated but Banks’s iPod in his car carries on the fight relentlessly, and he’s now giving various book titles the nod too. I’d thought Robinson had been coasting of late but there is a renewed power emerging here. And a nice twist as to who actually dunnit.
All the colours of darkness
Peter Robinson‘s new DCI Alan banks novel ‘All the colours of darkness’ (Hodder, 2008) is dark indeed without quite being noir, spook involvement in the unfolding events adding a sinister edge – not sure how Banks is going to emerge from this one in the next book. But DI Annie Cabbot, her story, continues to engage. The music quotes have become a bit of joke though, some so obscure I think he’s made a couple up. The sense of place – a lot of London in this one & the usual Yorkshire Moors – still comes over well.
The price of love; and other stories
… but it’s Peter Robinson I’ve just been reading, a new collection of short stories, ‘The price of love‘ (Hodder, 2009). It’s a good collection and the novella ‘Like a virgin‘ which closes the book, the back story of his main creation, detective Alan Banks and his move from London to the Yorkshire Moors, is as powerful a piece of writing as anything Robinson has done, committed and compassionate. The non-Banks stories are interesting too – good to discover Robinson is no one trick pony – not least those based in Canada.
Alan Banks and Annie Cabot are considering their situation in the final pages of Peter Robinson‘s latest novel, ‘Bad boy‘ (Hodder, 2010). It’s after the storm but there’s plenty still hanging for the next book to pick up, something Robinson doesn’t usually do; for sure there’s always been continuity from book to book, but here there are various narrative strands left positively dangling. Like Banks saying:
“But sometimes I think I’ve had enough. I’m getting a bit tired of it all, to be honest.”
Beyond the music, the booze and the books mentioned in passing, how much is Banks Robinson’s alter ego? And how much is Banks hitting the television screens effecting some sort of change in their relationship? After the emotional intensity of the title short story of the last book, ‘The price of love‘, which took us right back to Banks’ decision to leave London, the tone of ‘Bad boy‘ seems strangely detached for a lot of the time, even though the action does involve Banks’ daughter as a hostage (something bad happening to them seems to be an occupational hazard of the daughters of fictional British detectives).
Banks doesn’t appear until page 67; he’s on leave in the US after the traumas of the last full size novel and another failed relationship, seeking some sort of epiphany, achieving a muted satisfaction, an “end of something”. Thankfully we are spared a U2 soundtrack in the Nevada desert. In San Francisco he’s reading Dashiel Hammett – ‘The Maltese Falcon’ – and again contemplating notions of happiness, achieving a few moments even.
It’s not until page 189, nearly halfway through the book, that our man lands back in Blighty with all hell breaking loose. There are references to the happenings back in ‘Aftermath‘ – the book chosen for the (sorry – not very good) first TV adaptation – and parallel concerns with the formal investigation of an officer’s behaviour under duress (this time involving a topical taser). What further makes me think that Robinson has been affected by his new TV status is surely the most animated cinematic passage I can recall him writing – the journey down the M1 with Banks at the wheel, Jaff – the bad boy – in control, hand on gun, and Tracy Banks the hostage, with Banks’s favourite CD , Mile Davis – ‘Kind of blue’ playing on the car stereo; that will work.
Robinson has written better books than ‘Bad boy‘ but it still has its moments and I’ll read the next one, no trouble. We end up in organised crime territory (‘The Farmer’ with his damned compilation CDs of classical music); Jaff as public school and Cambridge educated villain in the ‘new’ Leeds doesn’t quite make it for me (what did he study?) and the level of gratuitous nastiness in London really is, well, nasty. But we still have Banks:
“She sounded far too wise for one so young, thought Banks., who had been patiently waiting for years now for the wisdom that was supposed to come with age, to no avail, it seemed.”
Watching the dark
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.
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 in the music. 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.
Children of the revolution
I’ll not repeat the main review but you can find it here. (Click anywhere on that sentence)
Themes and settings: North Yorkshire; back story Essex University’71-74. Date rape drugs; sexual abuse allegations at a local tertiary College. Difficulties of criminal investigation among the great and good. Cover ups.
Murderee/s: only one this time: disgraced college lecturer and oddball down on his luck loner Gavin Miller (age 59 looking 70). “The man was a throwback to the sixties, politically and artistically.” Banks – no throwback – sees something of himself in their shared cultural history.
Music: Overload! Edited highlights. Not much played in the car any more but he has a “gentle blues riff of his mobile …”
- Murderee was into Grateful Dead; Banks plays and philosophises about Ripple on American Beauty, even mentioning Norma Waterson’s Black muddy river).
- Obscure Miles Davis film score.
- Memories of Who, Dylan & the Stones on a Dansette record player.
- Back in the cottage with wine: Biloxi from Jesse Winchester’s first album – “beautiful song.” [For which, yes, thanks for the memory. DQ].
- Of a pub landlady: unattributed “and the cheeks of her arse going chuff,chuff,chuff” (Albion Band’s Poor tired horse)
- Van Morrison’s St Dominic’s Preview playing back in the cottage with more vino, and again at the gaff of Lady Veronica Chalmers, who had always wondered, What’s a Veedon Fleece? Annie’s Have I told you lately exit line. The song Who drove the red sports car has direct relevance to the plot.
- Banks actually went to the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, in the brief period of freedom between college and police. “Some of Banks’s favourite albums were from this period. Van Morrison’s Moondance, The Who live at Leeds, Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush.”
- Lisa in her Goth phase at 19: Bauhaus/P J Harvey/Cure/Joy Division/Sisters of Mercy.
- When angry Annie Cabot bursts in on Banks and Gerry in the cottage and jealous mayhem ensues, he plays Chopin Nocturnes to soften the mood; when they’ve gone he puts on Miles Davis’s Bitches’ Brew.
- Lady Veronica writes to a Mozart Clarinet Concerto.
- Only jazz in the cottage: Roland Kirk’s Does your house have Lions.
- This book’s deliberate obscurity: Clarice van Houten: a CD called See you on the ice, the track You. Me. Bed. Now. [I checked it out; was not impressed. DQ]
- Banks discusses Shostakovich with Jarvis, ex-miners’ leader, on his allotment.
- Major date with Oriana at the folk night at the Dog and Gun – like the prevoious book the closing venue.
Writers (intertextuality): And film. And TV. It’s all getting a bit silly. Again, edited highlights.
- Banks is reading Patrick Hamilton & has a box set of noir DVDs (Kiss me deadly).
- “He felt like Philip Marlowe going to visit Colonel Sternwood.” (p75).
- The character Veronica Chalmers is a decent historical novelist who has also done biographies of Rumer Godden and Rosamund Lehmann; so that’s really placed her on the literary map for your typical crime fiction reader.
- Clever sod lecturer mentions what happened in the Marabar Caves – from E.M.Forster’s Passage to India – which makes Annie, remembering A levels, say of his Howards End that she wished it had. Pointless obscurity: Lisa is reading Ruth Ozeki’s A tale for the time being (currently on Booker short list.
- His mate Ken in Leeds resembles Philip Larkin.
- Banks hasn’t read Jane Austen. [Good for him].
- Lisa says she’s not The girl with the dragon tattoo.
- Jarvis (he os Shostakovich above) mentions Tony Harrison.
- “Why did he feel he was entering into a John Le Carre novel every time he talked to Mr Browne?” [- that heartsink moment for crime readers too.]
Alcohol: Least amount consumed of all his books? In the cottage on his own Layers – an Australian red “he had come to enjoy lately” [retailing at £7.99, I discover] but still Laphroaig whisky in extremis. Actually has orange juice with one pub lunch of bangers and mash, but still the odd pint at other times (mostly unspecified save one of Jennings’ Sneck Lifter). Green tea! Drink driving a thing of the past. Refuses offer of cigarette nostalgically.
- Women dominate his team: Annie, Winsome & new girl Gerry. Winsome as moralist and prig loosening up, her empathy with the damaged but re-emerging Lisa is one of the standout passages.
- Generally lighter in tone than previous books, almost jokey in parts. [eg.p170 “The point was that the possible link between Lady Veronica Chalmers and Gavin Miller was a line of enquiry worth pursuing, and Red Ron had closed it off, like Dr Beeching did to the old railway track where Miller’s body had been found.” and p366 “The stairway looked as if it stretched about as high as the one in the Led Zeppelin song.”]
- Peter Robinson’s life as successful author reflected in Lady Vron’s’s book tours & some on the set filming of a tv crime series with a plot straight out of an old Banks storyline.
- Product placement: Annie’s Yorkshire Gold favourite.
- We get told what everyone ordered at pretty much every meal out.
- Even more than usual the delineation of character from cultural artefacts – posters on walls, DVDs , books etc.
- For once a cover up that Banks is happy to live with.
State of marriage/relationships: Nothing going on until near the end. Annie Cabot still recovering from the trauma of being shot in the previous book. “But Banks didn’t think Annie was fine … He was worried about her, but she wouldn’t let her close.” She does show paranoid signs of jealousy though (and there’s the Van Morrison, ‘Have I told you lately‘ quip; next line, “that I love you”).
Banks falls for Oriana, a younger and beautiful woman met in the investigation; ends with a date with her at a folk night at the Dog and Gun and high hopes; a bit corny, truth be told, someone singing Queen of Hearts.
Rank: DCI; immediate boss ‘Madame’ Gervaise (AC), her boss ‘Red’ Ken (ACC). She raises the question of retirement, or promotion to DS if he wants to stay on – informal SWOT analysis follows. Banks to Ken: “Retirement terrifies me. I’m frightened I’d drop dead within a year.”
- Banks (p34): “I’ve often thought that solving a crime has far more to do with understanding people and their motives than it does with spectographic analysis and DNA.”
- P131 “Everybody lies,” said Banks.
- p151 “We’ve got the author coming in this afternoon – the author of the books the series is based on – and I have to take care of him. We like to keep the authors happy. That way they don’t complain too much about what we do to their books.”
- p164 Red Ron: “Is that what it is, Alan? Said McLaughlin. “That working class chip on your shoulder again?”
- 175 Annie: “You were off sulking, weren’t you? Drinking and listening to some weird music, I’ll bet. Licking your wounds.”
- 213 “I suppose there is a certain amount of nostalgia for the old days,” Banks admitted. “But it did seem real enough at the time. It seemed within our power to change things. Make a better world.”
- 291 Annie & Gerry driving over toLeeds: “Annie said it was a relief not to have to suffer Banks’s musical tastes for a change. Gerry admitted that she didn’t understand half the pop-culture references he made. Annie said it was an age thing.”
Pedants’ corner: Why do nothing about the £5,000 found on the murderee’s body at some stage – suspect’s bank accounts etc.? Rather crucial I would have thought.
Ronnie described by someone as “Dyed-in-the-wool Communist” in the “Marxist Society” by a contemporary; also as the “Prom Queen of the Marxist society”; I’m not convinced – firstly the buzz word was ‘socialist’, and secondly … oh OK, maybe at Essex, just maybe. But by then feminism was a big deal too.
Would the Banks we know and love really have a “gentle blues riff” on his mobile …” Really??
Any other thoughts: Banks is now cultivating a herb garden (p10) and doing the Sunday Times crossword (‘in crime scene’ an anagram from reminiscence).
Morbid thoughts on mortality, how much he shares – age, interests – with the murderee).
As said above, too much with the cultural signifiers.
And again, a certain lightness of tone creeping in: in response to Annie’s “You know damn well what”: “No I don’t. He hated it when people said that and he didn’t know damn well what.”
Clumsy prose: p9 “The bridge was too narrow for even the slimmest of sports cars.” Are sports cars necessarily slim?
Link to blog review: http://wp.me/pBz1o-1jm
Themes and settings: North Yorkshire Moors (wet, late winter), with trips to Scarborough, Whitby (fish and chips), Leeds & London. Organised rural crime; an expensive tractor is at the heart of what turns out something a lot bigger. Emotional engagement in police work. And there’s a bit of speleology.
Murderee: Morgan Spencer: low level criminal/scuffler, lived in a caravan. Fancied himself as a ladies man. Disposed of like a sick farm animal.
Music: Book title is a Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds song and album title (2004). Banks briefly in Leeds but doesn’t even mention HMV, though he still subscribes to Gramophone magazine.
- Annie saw the Boomtown Rats at Glastonbury when younger.
- Banks gets a Janet Baker box set in the post
- Oriana (see Relationships) has left some CDs at the cottage – opera and early music but also “and those damn U2 CDs she had insisted on bringing. Banks couldn’t stand U2. All their songs sounded the same to him, and Bono and the bloke with the woolly hat and silly name got on his nerves.” [Yippee].
- Banks’ obscurities (or at least I’d never heard of them): Gwylim Simcock and Yuri Goloubev: Reverie at Schloss Elmau (jazz piano and stand-up bass); Agnes Obel’s Aventure (gentle repeatitive piano figures, cello, violin, soothing voice)..
- The van driver and his Prog Rock obsession. We are treated to a simplistic explanation of the phenomena. Becomes a bit of a running joke, particularly Tales from topographic oceans. “Fair scared the wits out of my chickens. Put them off their laying, nearly.”
- The late ’50s/60s oldies soundtrack in The Queens Arms pub – “the office”.
- Noise cancelling headphones on the train: Bartok and Walton viola concertos. Then Scott Walker sings Jacques Brel (Ne me quitte pas) – “Where the English version are sad, the original was a desperate plea.”
- Dismissal of hip-hop. “he wanted to be a rap singer. That was an oxymoron as far as Banks was concerned.”
- Product placement: a Bang & Olufson set-up at the tractor owner’s house.
Intertextuality ( books, films, tv): a farm is ‘very Wuthering Heights‘. DI Dougal Wilson looks like Harry Potter in the films (a running joke). Someone has ‘a Coronation Street tan‘. More mentions of crime tv shows: “You know, if this were on telly …” says Annie at one stage; in the incident room there’s “a glass board, which looked to Annie like something out of an American cop programme.” New Tricks and Midsomer murders are on in the background at certain stages. M.R.James’ Whistle and I’ll come to you (tv version) also gets a mention.
- Kate Atkinson & Khaled Hosseini, Jonathan Franzen & Kiran Desai in the context of AC Gervaise’s Reading Group
- on the train Banks is still reading Patrick Hamilton, though no title is mentioned
- Films: namechecks for No country for old men and Silence of the Lambs. Unlikely though it seems to me, Banks watches a DVD of ‘the latest James Bond’.
- Simenon’s Maigret “always sending out to the local bar for beer and sandwiches”; a favourite of Banks’s dad.
- It rankles with Banks that Dirty Dick Burgess in London calls him ‘Banksy’; not that he’s got anything against the artist.
Alcohol: Moderate consumption
- “the local Montefalco wines” in Italy.
- Macallan 12 year-old malt whisky, “working his way back to Laphroaig.”
- the occasional real ale – only Timothy Taylor’s specified, just the once.
- more wine in the cottage and opening a celebratory bottle of red on his own (whistling You win again)
- ends that day in the pub with a double Laphroaig, downed in one.
Distinguishing characteristics: loneliness and melancholy in one way or another for Banks, Annie & DS Winsome Jackman. Banks still liking his solitude but … only friends on the job, never seeing those outside his place of work, or the retired guys, or his son and daughter. “Why did he seem to be letting everybody go?”
- in the early chapters the dangers of jumping to chav conclusions about whole populations because of where people live: “… you get a blinkered view of such things when you were a copper”
- more physical description of the Moors than usual; a more specific political slant – City of London ‘Big Bang’
- more CSI and police procedural, especially at the beginning
- more references back to earlier books than before
Relationship status: When the book opens Banks is absent on a long weekend (Annie calls it a ‘dirty weekend’) in Umbria visiting the extended family of Oriana (from Children of the revolution, the previous book). We never see her – she’s in Australia working. They aren’t living together but she’s leaving stuff over at Newhope Cottage. “They had a great relationship, he felt, as long as neither of them tried to push it too far.”
Hint of jealousy from Annie Cabot, but at the celebration in the pub, he’s looks over almost jealously at Dirty Dick getting off with Joanna MacDonald (“We’ll always have Talinn, Alan,” she jokes, from previous book). He’s wistful, even, about the violist who got away, in another earlier book.
Rank: still DCI (if he wasn’t they’d have to change the series title) with retirement looming, but the prospect of a 5 year extension if he wants/gets a promotion; only mentioned briefly in passing. Boss is still Area Commander Cathy Gervaise.
Quotes: “She could certainly testify that she had not had more fun as a blonde.” – Annie.
- “He felt the tremor of excitement start to dislodge the lazy, relaxed feeling he had been enjoying over the past few days. He wasn’t sure that he didn’t like this frisson more.” (p50)
- “Was his team going soft on him? Or was he getting more cynical and hardbitten as time went on?” (p96).
- “All I’m saying, Annie, is that we can’t always save their souls. Half the time we can’t even save their bodies. Believe me, I’ve met plenty of deserving cases in my time, and sometimes I’ve even helped them, but sometimes I haven’t. Sometimes it worked. Often it didn’t and they went on to commit more serious crimes. We’re not psychologists or miracle workers.” (p154)
- “It was rare that Annie felt sentimental about people she didn’t really know, and maybe it was a sign that she was leaving behind some of the depression and cynicism that seemed to have invaded her mind since the shooting. That was a good thing; she hadn’t liked the person she was becoming. Loneliness was turning her into a moody and sharp-tongued bitch. If she got much worse, she wouldn’t be able to find anyone willing to put up with her, let alone love and cherish her. She just hoped that she didn’t get so soft she couldn’t see the hard truth when it was staring her in the face. Any good copper needs at least an ounce or two of scepticism.” (p71)
- “I always have a funny feeling around property developers. It doesn’t mean they’re all murderers.” – Banks (p233)
- “He cared about them all, he realised. Sometimes it was a feeling of heart-swelling pride; other times it was a burden. Tonight it was a joy to share their joy, even though he felt distant and more than a little melancholic.” – of his team (p366)
Any other thoughts: Annie Cabot getting to be a bit of a wasted character, given her background: “Now she could enjoy what she had been wanting all day – that hot bath and stack of trashy magazines.” Really?
- after the post mortem a cigarette crosses his mind. A craving long gone, but he recalls them being carried out with fag dangling out of the corner of the pathologists’ mouth: “It was almost unbelievable today how much they used to be able to get away with.” – ditto as the books have progressed with a lot of things. But how mobile phones have changed everything! (p161)
- Padding: Blindingly obvious to any crime fiction reader a passage on alibis in general. Ditto why rural pubs are in decline. What could be seen from the train of the murder site? – nothing, fairly obviously.
- never mind carrying on on a dodgy bit of road on her own when she knows there’s a big snow storm brewing, Winsome goes into the illegal abattoir with a known vicious bastard in or nearby the premises ON HER OWN.
- at the victory celebration in the Queens Arms, Annie helps Banks bring the drinks from the bar as Booby Vee’s Take good care of my baby plays. Is that the author having a joke about whatever happened to Annie’s baby? (p365)
Clumsy prose: Yup -see the blog review: http://wp.me/pBz1o-1jm. But nothing to report in Pedant’s Corner this time.
When the music’s over
23 : 2016
Link to blog review: https://quavid.wordpress.com/2016/08/07/the-copper-who-quoted-wordsworth/
Themes and settings: celebrity historical sexual abuse, grooming by British men of Pakistani origin, policing in a multicultural society, lumpen-proletariat existence in northern towns. Yorkshire Dales and the North East mostly; Blackpool historically
Victims: 14 year old Mimosa ‘Mimsy’ Moffat, the girl dumped in the country (Annie’s case) and Linda Palmer – award winning poet, surviving rape victim
Music: the book’s title is a celebrated Doors track There are a lot of citations of what people other than Banks are listening to. On the whole I’ve ignored them.
- he still subscribes to Gramophone magazine; solo classical piano is what he buys in Leeds HMV
- admits to listening to Elvis movie soundtracks
- “something a bit different from the string quartets and trios he had been playing lately“: Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence album (with some critical justification)
- Mark Knopfler’s Tracker album (including Basil, the song about Basil Bunting that gets him reading Bunting)
- he falls asleep to John Taverner’s Lament for Jerusalem
- variously in the car: acoustic Richard Thompson, Keith Jarrett with Charlie Haden; Alabama Shakes; Rolling Stones – Stray cat blues (see quote); Bowie’s Pin Ups – one track “still sent a shiver up his spine every time he heard it, like the opening chords of the Small Faces’ All or nothing”; a live Jerry Garcia Band Dear Prudence
- break up music: ‘I listened to Blood on the tracks and The boatman’s call a few too many times … drank a bit too much Laphroaig‘. Old chum Ken in Leeds says, ‘With me it’s always In the wee small hours and Macallan eighteen-year-old.’ ‘I always said you had class.’
- in his cottage with Annie: Tim Buckley – Blue afternoon and, after a list of other ’60s classics, Love: Forever changes
- at Linda’s cottage: Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony; Mahler’s 9th Symphony.
Intertextuality (books, films, tv) : same qualification as above
- obligatory New Tricks mention (p14)
- Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey from school, talking to Linda
- Linda reading Alice Oswald’s slim volume Dart; he thinks he’ll give it a go (it exists – I looked it up)
- Sylvia Plath’s Ariel got her out of her post-abuse state; she lists other poets she copied in finding her voice and makes a Geoffrey Hill joke; Banks doesn’t tell her about his liking Tony Harrison (why not?)
- Banks is still working his way through “an anthology of English verse he had found in the second hand bookshop off the Market Square”: Chidiock Tichborne’s Elegy (“My prime of youth is but a frost of cares” – not quoted in the book) moved him almost to tears … but he’s a bit bogged down in Pope and Dryden. Milton. “Quite the Adam Dalgleish,” says Linda
- ‘Well, thanks for the compliment, but I’ve never known anyone recognise a poet in the street.’ She glanced around. ‘Or even in a pub. Maybe it happened to Heaney and Larkin, but not me. Not even Carol Ann Duffy, I shouldn’t think.’ Banks hadn’t heard of Carol Ann Duffy, so he kept quiet about that. (p205) [but see also Pedants Corner below]
- With Linda in a pub: “Bribe? With a book of poetry? To do what?” She dedicates it to ‘To Alan Banks, the copper who quoted Wordsworth.’ He says he’s up to Gray’s Elegy in a country churchyard in his anthology. She says skip a bit: Romantics; Rilke, Baudelaire, Akhmatova.
- Discusses crime and spy fiction with a retired cop (‘But surely you must find their stories a bit different from the reality you remember?.’)
- Basil Bunting’s Briggflatts after hearing Mark Knopfler’s Basil
- ‘My, my, you are a literate copper. Not only Wordsworth but Shakespeare too. I suppose you did it at school?’ Linda again, about an Othello reference
- Yorkshire ales: Timothy Taylor’s, Sam Smith’s, Timothy Taylor’s again; only one if he’s driving
- a couple of diet Cokes (he’s driving)
- Shiraz in the cottage (pretentious about the winemaker); Pinot Grigio at Linda’s
- Banks is a bit on the back burner compared with his previous existential crises
- Poetry, a lot of poetry references, given that … Linda Palmer, the most fully rounded and interesting character, is an award winning poet. Instalments of her non-lurid Memoir of events leading up to her rape (in a sans serif font) are the best writing in the book, & hers the most animated conversation
- Annie Cabbot now in her early 40s even though, apparently she’s doing yoga and meditation, frustrated by political correctness, having to be ‘delicate’, ‘so frightened of offending’ (“We’ll be accused of Islamaphobia”).
- Gerry – Geraldine – Masterson: Private school/Oxbridge background. Rookie detective, potential high flier. Posh, out of her social comfort zone. Might develop.
- Whole lotta ’60s stuff (not for the first time). Nicely done both for the plot’s needs and some simple nostalgia (Banks’s Teen and Twenty Disc Club membership card, Linda’s Letts Schoolgirl Diary. etc). Optimism/ hope.
State of marriage/relationships:
- Oriana (Italian, from previous book a definite prospect): “… had lived with him on and off, but they had split up, amicably enough … But he was used to living alone, and he soon settled back into his old routines.”
- Drunk with Annie one night; nuanced moment, but never really onfor either of them
- Folk night down at the Dog & Gun: Penny Cartwright & Linda Palmer are mates; she speaks highly of him, says Linda. So one of them in the next book?
Rank: when it starts he’s newly promoted to Detective Superintendent (it was that or retirement at end of previous book).
- Interesting shift: ‘You do realise that what Jazz just told us makes your job rather … delicate?’
‘”Delicate?” Is that what promotion does for you, makes you use words like “delicate”?’
‘That’s not fair.’
‘I know. And I’m sorry. It just slipped out. It just doesn’t sound like the old you …’
- He has a second pint: he’ll get ‘One of the PCs’ to drive him home.’ (‘Ooh, flexing our superintendent’s muscles are we? Remember what I said about power.’)
- Possibility of demotion or sack after all this; when this time he’s actually played it by the book.
- No detective in his right mind wanted to be part of a historical abuse investigation. (Banks p8)
‘Half created, half perceived, perhaps.’‘Wordsworth,’ said Banks.
Linda’s eyes widened. ‘You know poetry?’
‘No, but we did Tintern Abbey at school […] I’ve never forgotten those lines, or at least the paraphrase. It’s something that comes up a lot in my job.’
‘ “Of all the mighty world / Of eye and ear, – both what they half create, / And what perceive.” Yes, that’s what it’s like, really, trying to think back to that … that day. I don’t know how much I perceived or how much I’m making up, filling in, when I try to remember it.’
She had just put her finger on the whole problem of historical abuse case, Banks thought – or Wordsworth had. (p56/7)
- As easy as it was to be cynical about historical abuse claims – and Banks was as guilty of that as anyone – he didn’t doubt that bad things had happened back then, things that had not been investigated for a variety of reasons. (p80)
- “… the Rolling Stones doing Stray cat blues … Banks … felt uncomfortable when Jagger started singing about a thirteen-year-old girl. It reminded him that those days had, indeed, been different … “ [and then he has to go on about Jerry Lee Lewis] (p113)
- Annie: This, she thought … is what becomes of certain people when they feel disenfranchised, get put down and ignored all the time and come to feel there’s no useful way through life for them, that nobody cares and nothing’s going to change for the better. (p175)
- ‘What’s wrong with me, Alan?’ she said when he had emptied the last of the bottle into her glass. ‘Am I a racist? Is that it? Do you think I’m a racist?’
‘I don’t think you’re a racist, Annie. It’s just complicated. That’s all.’ (p271)
- She was right about the constant dance of memory and imagination, perception and creation, history and fiction. How easily was the one transformed into the other, or by it, sometimes to such an extent that we actually believed a thing had happened the way we remembered it, when it hadn’t happened that way at all. He gave up pursuing the thought. It wasn’t a fruitful line of inquiry for a detective. (p268)
- ‘But it must get to you, seeing so much of the dark side, the cruel side of human nature.’
‘You’ve been there. You know what it’s like. Besides, it’s not all doom and gloom. I see plenty of good too. Plenty of decent people trying to help others. They’re just not always who or where you expect them to be.’
- Dust jacket on the hardback says ‘The new DCI Banks novel’ but he’s now a Detective Superintendent; DSI Banks
- ‘Banks hadn’t heard of Carol Ann Duffy, so he kept quiet about that.’ (p205) And yet (p474) he reads the Observer and in In a dry season he’s reading an anthology of 20th century poetry.
- … a cover band imitating the Rolling Stones?
- I’m not convinced about riot potential of the grooming gang arrests.
Any other thoughts:
- Dirty Dick Burgess now high up in the National Crime Agency; Ken Blackstone in Leeds again (getting to resemble Philip Larkin or Eric Morecambe)
- the obligatory mention of Canada (Linda had a spell teaching creative writing)
- as usual there’s seems no logic to the chapter divisions; they all jump too and from each case, and the actual chapter break seems random. But from end Chapter 2 (Banks’ interview with Linda) straight into her thoughts.
- This time it’s rookie Geraldine who does the crime fic and TV inevitable and dangerously goes to see Jade … on her own … without telling anybody