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by Peter Robinson
McClelland & Stewart, October 2019
384 pages
$25.95 CAD
ISBN: 0771072805

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

My first association with the title of this 26th entry in the Inspector Banks series was with the Henry Louis Gates six-part television documentary of a few years ago concerning the history of African-Americans in the United States. But originally, of course, it was the title of the song by Jimmy Cliff that expressed his frustration at failing to make a mark on the UK music scene after leaving Jamaica, a connection perhaps foremost in Alan Banks' mind given his extensive private playlist. And then, of course, there's One More River to Cross, the final river, Jordan. Whether all these were in Peter Robinson's mind when he chose the title I cannot say, but if they were, he clearly hoped to draw parallels between the escape from slavery and the flight of contemporary refugees from war and sexual trafficking.

As to that final river, there is a bit of an autumnal gloom that creeps over this episode in the career of Inspector (now Detective Superintendent) Alan Banks, even if the book is set in the springtime. Banks, now a senior police officer, is not troubled unnecessarily by his subordinates; not called out to a crime scene if it can be avoided. And he is subtly nagged by the prospect of a forthcoming birthday and the implications it perhaps carries of retirement.

There are two primary narrative threads. One involves Samir, a thirteen-year-old Syrian boy who has been pressed into serving as a link in a drug-delivery chain in Yorkshire. An illegal immigrant, he is helpless to refuse. His body turns up in a rubbish bin and the murder team bends every effort to discover who put it there and why. The second thread is not (at least as yet) a police matter. It involves another refugee of sorts, a woman named Zelda who is legally in the country but who once was a captive in a sex-trafficking enterprise from which she made her escape. She is a talented face-recognitioner and helps out the Met when required. She is also in a relationship with the artist Ray Cabbot, thirty years her senior and father of DI Annie Cabbot, a former lover of Alan Banks. But comfortable as she may be with Ray, she is never at ease, fearful that the traffickers she evaded will at catch up with her sometime and wreak their revenge.

It is Zelda's story that remains the most vivid, though the meticulous policing involved in unravelling the story of what happened to Samir is certainly involving and comes to a somewhat surprising conclusion. An interesting thread is the introduction of current concerns. Sex-trafficking and the plight of very young refugees obviate any misapprehension that Eastvale is immune to the ills of the larger world. And political discussions, especially about Brexit, hook the narrative firmly into the present moment.

Though it might seem that Alan Banks may be about to put on his slippers and sink into a gentle, if musical, retirement, there's still ample material left to be resolved in at least another volume and ideally in even more. And that, I think, is a very good thing indeed.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, September 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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