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.”
One last point, a complaint. In his acknowledgments at the back, Peter Robinson thanks,
“Last but not least, this book wouldn’t be in your hands today if it weren’t for the sales reps and the bookshop employees, so a hearty thanks to you all.”
The copy I read, and I daresay thousnds of others will do the same, came from the public library; my copy will be read at the very least a dozen times before the paperback comes out. Credit where it’s due here too, please, to some public sector workers in libraries up and down the land who are not exactly having a great time of it in these days.
There’s a significant new woman, another strong female character among the many (hurrah!), in ‘The girl who kicked the hornet’s nest‘ (MacLehose, 2009), the final book in Stieg Larsson‘s Millennium trilogy. “Do you have any weaknesses?” asks Blomkvist. “I don’t read fiction,” the muscled Figuerola replies. She works out, used to do weights. I can’t remember, I think she’s legit state security rather than police; I just thought, with a little weariness, ‘Oh bloody hell, go on surprise me, he’s not going to sleep with her too, is he? He does.
Don’t get me wrong, the whole trilogy is still a brilliant quick read – inventive, intoxicating even; I’ve talked about the previous books, um, previously. Another quote:
“It all sounds a bit … I don’t know. Improbable.”
“Doesn’t it? One might think it’s the stuff of a spy novel.”
Indeed. But with this secret state within a secret state – ‘The Section’ – headed up by an old man dying of cancer and another on a kidney dialysis machine, it doesn’t do to linger too long in the real world.
This book picks up with Salander in a coma, so it’s only on half-life until she starts functioning and engaging with the world and the hacker community again. Emails and instant messaging make for excellent action drivers, and with cops following spies, private security following the Section and other combinations thereof, we romp along. The courtroom scenes are nicely done, too, even though we seem to have a very different legal system here in the UK. It does have to be said that there’s too much detail at times – do we really need the full security audit of Berger’s apartment, say – and there must be an appropriate and poetic punishment out there for whichever deeply annoying editor decided to fully punctuate acronyms like C.D. & D.V.D. let alone H.T.M.L. and U.R.L.
Salander still enchants, though, refusing to go with the flow. When she refuses to touch a penny of her father’s estate, she is advised, “Then give the money to Greenpeace or something.” Her response? “I don’t give a shit about whales.” I guess we will never learn what happened to her twin sister or how Berger (and indeed Blomkvist) copes with Blomkvist’s new love. But a satisfying retribution is dealt to the bad guys, and there is a riveting end to the action (almost literally).
You can’t really call Sean Lock one of the bad boys, unless you find offensive the notion of his keeping an angry group of coeliac disease sufferers at bay – complaining the tastelessness of one of his rants on people who make a big deal of mild wheat intolerance – by scattering bread crumbs. At the theatre last week he was very funny, riffing on a number of themes. Like phrases that sound a lot better than the reality (and thinking ethnic cleansing meant dry cleaning ponchos); like resenting being asked if wanted a ‘Bag for life’ at the supermarket checkout – because he didn’t wish to be reminded of his mortality. My favourite: his wife doesn’t like it when he treats his kids as if they were hecklers.