Tuesday, July 19, 2016

"When the music's over"

The latest installment in the casebook of literary creation DCI (now DS) Banks (written by Peter Robinson) is a deeply disturbing novel; whilst some of it is enjoyable in the way that police procedurals are, it is as upsetting as an earlier novel in the series, "Aftermath".

As Robinson frequently does, the book is divided into two stories, an 'Alan' and an 'Annie' story; these do not overlap. Also as per a few Robinson books, one of the stories is split between now and 50 years ago. Unfortunately, this is very much a novel for these times - or as one might have said 50 years ago, Robinson has tapped into the zeitgeist. Views espoused by one character, Paul Warner, are exactly those of the people who voted 'leave' in the recent British referendum, aka Brexit. Events which happen in this book appear to have been inspired by real life in Britain from the past few years.

Coincidentally, I saw a few days ago an episode of the British series 'Silent Witness' (which features crime solving pathologists), which was about exactly the same subject matter: Pakistanis grooming young white girls for prostitution. Some of the dialogue from that episode (broadcast 2012) is paraphrased in this book. I'm not trying to suggest that Robinson plagiarised the television programme; these unfortunately are sentiments expressed by the British people of the 2010s. To be honest, I'm glad I'm not there any more.

This is the 'Annie' story which is very powerful; it could easily have filled a book on its own and is very well developed. Accompanying Annie (who has become slightly more mature and is even hoping for promotion, although still somewhat out-spoken) is the recent addition to the team, DC Geraldine (Gerry) Masterson, who is given a much bigger part in this book than previously. DC Masterson gets her superior's rank wrong at one stage, calling him DCI Banks rather than DS Banks. Maybe she had yet to get used to his promotion, but I don't think so.

The 'Alan' story is about how a famous (fictional) entertainer raped a fourteen year old girl 50 years ago in Blackpool. This story line is obviously based on its real life counterparts of Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris et al., and is a bit weak. From a literary point of view, victim Linda Palmer's memoirs about her holiday resonate very strongly with Banks' own memories of a similar holiday with Graham Marshall in 'The summer that never was': one from a male perspective (meeting girls) and one from a female perspective (meeting boys). Of course, Palmer's stay in Blackpool ended somewhat differently from that of Banks, but it is interesting to read. But is this a sign of lazy writing? Robinson has already covered this material, albeit from a different viewpoint.

Another sign of lazy writing might be the inclusion of DI Chadwick and DC Bradley from 'A piece of my heart' (which, as it happens, I read again a few days ago). Judging from the characterisation of Chadwick in the earlier book (apparently ten years ago), he was a very moral person and there is no way that he would have ceased investigating the rape of an underage girl on his own initiative. This story is much less developed than the other; it is somewhat surprising that Banks is the person investigating, as I thought that his rank would have him coordinating the two investigations rather than taking an active part in one (and of course, interviewing attractive women). I thought that this book would develop DS Winsome Jackman's character, after her leading role in the previous book, but she barely exists.

Having written all that, the closing conversation between Banks and Palmer is classic Robinson and goes a long way in healing any wounds which might have been opened by the rest of the book.

When the music's over
Turn out the light
(The Doors)

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