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by Peter Robinson
McClelland & Stewart, September 2008
360 pages
$29.95 CAD
ISBN: 0771076118

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Alan Banks is happier than he has been in a long time. On holiday in London, tucked up with his new (and much younger) girlfriend, Sophia, life seems suddenly sweet. No prizes for guessing how long that will last. Till mid-morning, actually, when his mobile phone buzzes him back to Eastvale and a horrific murder-suicide involving a locally prominent gay couple.

Banks, however, rapidly comes to believe that all is not what it seems. He starts nosing about and before he knows it, MI5 appears to be involved and he is ordered off the case by his boss, Detective Superintendent Gervaise, and told to finish off his leave. So Banks is off back to London and the beckoning arms of Sophia, but off the case? You must be joking.

The plot of this eighteenth Inspector Banks novel is ingenious and complex, if not altogether convincing on the level of simple realism. But it seems to me that there is something different going on here beyond the straightforward police procedural. Alan Banks, like the rest of us, perhaps, is travelling in a strange new world and he is having trouble determining its solid landmarks and certainties.

Though Robinson sets this series in his native Yorkshire, he has lived in Canada for more than half his life. In this book, Banks spends little time at home; instead he is wandering about London, often sounding a bit of a tourist. (Does a fish and chips lunch for three at Bentley‛s really cost 130? Um, yes, but the chips are awfully good.) One can almost hear the slight awe with which a Canadian converts the bill into Canadian dollars.

But Banks‛s displacement has deeper roots than cultural difference. Partly it is a question of age. Banks is getting on a bit - he‛s over fifty and not altogether happy about it. The women he dates are too young for him. At one point, he‛s mildly attracted to a young private investigator, who is very enthusiastic about him as well, because he‛s Brian-the-rockstar‛s father. It is a poignant moment in any parent‛s life when the child steps forward to centre stage and dad must take a step back to make room for him.

But more than that, the London he is in, indeed the Britain he is in, is not the place of his youth. It is the world that has emerged after July 7, 2005, when the Underground exploded in a string of fiery explosions. It is now a place where shadowy spooks can do as they will, where the walls of one‛s very home (the proverbial castle) cannot keep them out, and they are acting in the name of security.

Following a bomb blast in central London, Banks has to face his essential impotence in the face of what has happened to all that he has known. Aside from some immediate help that he can offer, despite all his police training and experience, he can only leave it to the experts, who firmly but kindly shuffle him off the scene, unimpressed by his warrant-card.

As an ex-pat myself, someone who has spent much of my adult life in Canada and who now feels alienated and confused by the land of my birth following 9/11, I may be projecting my own experience on Banks and Robinson. But I will be surprised if this particular incarnation of Alan Banks does not strike a responsive chord in the hearts of readers at home or abroad who are similarly discomforted by the shifting boundaries of the world they have somehow come to live in. And once again, an experienced and accomplished writer demonstrates how even a long-established series character can grow and change as altered circumstances demand.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, September 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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