Saturday, November 25, 2017

DS Alan Banks and Di Annie Cabbot Draw Two Very Difficult Cases in This Novel From Peter Robinson

When Peter Robinson began the Alan Banks series in 1987, with Gallows View, Banks was a Detective Chief Inspector, and the early books followed him through the investigations of a number of crimes. Fairly early on, Robinson gave Banks a young subordinate named Annie Cabbot, who became a fixture of the series herself. Now, twenty nine years and twenty-three books into the series, Banks has been promoted to Detective Superintendent, supervising a number of investigators. Cabbot is now a Detective Inspector with a subordinate of her own, and therein lies the principal problem with this book.

Understandably, Robinson is reluctant to let go of either character, even briefly. But he's well past the point where he can have Cabbot simply trailing after Banks as he does all the heavy lifting in an investigation. His solution is to give both Banks and Cabbot their own separate cases and then follow the investigations.

Banks draws a fifty-year-old cold case involving a celebrated entertainer named Danny Caxton. Several women have now come forward, accusing Caxton of sexual improprieties. The most serious accusation comes from a woman who says that when she was only fourteen years old, Caxton lured her into his hotel room where he and another man raped her. The girl and her mother reported the case to the police, but the investigation went nowhere at the time. Given the new accusations that are being leveled against Caxton, the case is revived, but all of the evidence that might have been collected initially has disappeared, and Banks, who believes the woman's story, has a very difficult task ahead of him.

Cabbot's case is a contemporary one, also involving a fourteen-year-old girl who is gang-raped in a van and then pitched from the van into a roadside ditch. She crawls out of the ditch and only a few minutes later is murdered. The young woman comes from a very dysfunctional family and has fallen into bad company. The small town where she lived is racially divided, with tension simmering between the white residents and a large group of people with Pakistani ethnic origins, and the case may well blow the lid off the troubled relations between the two groups.

Robinson approaches the situation by dividing virtually every chapter in half. One half is devoted to the Banks or Cabbot case and then abruptly shifts to the other. The two cases have absolutely nothing that links them together, and Robinson attempts to bridge the problem by bringing Banks and Cabbot together for drinks a couple of times to kick around their respective investigations. But it's a very frustrating approach, or at least it was for me. Every time one of the stories would begin to gain a bit of momentum, the spell was broken while Robinson switched to the other.

In truth, Cabbot's case is much the more interesting and could easily have sustained a novel all by itself. The Banks case seems thin, and Robinson has to stretch it out quite a bit in order to fill the space needed. Realistically, he would have been better off simply to let this be Cabbot's book and let her run with the case under Banks's general supervision.

This is not a bad book, but it is a frustrating one. These are two appealing characters, and I understand the Robinson, like many readers, is very fond of them. But I hope he finds a more satisfactory way of dealing with them the next time out.

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