Murder again in the Yorkshire Dales

June 24, 2011

Peter Robinson created the successful Inspector Banks Mysteries Series, beginning with Gallows View, published in 1987. That first Banks mystery appeared on TLC after my visit to Partners & Crime bookstore in NYC’s Greenwich Village, where the bookseller recommended the series. I asked for not just a good detective novel — an entertaining one-off — but an already well-developed series I could start at the beginning and then, book after book, connect with the lead sleuth through his or her personal ups and downs. It’s not just the intrigue of a mystery I wanted in each book, but also a strong protagonist who mattered to me.

This week I read #2 in the Inspector Banks Mysteries, A Dedicated Man, which — I might add — was not that easy to get a hold of. One local library had deaccessioned it, and Barnes & Noble online had only one in stock at the time. I discovered that after I ordered it, and they sent it to someone else. Instead, I got her order, Shakespeare’s Hamlet. B&N didn’t have a replacement available, but I found an even better deal at a local used bookstore. (I should’ve looked there first.)

In Gallows View, we learn Inspector Banks relocated from London to the the village of Eastvale in the Yorkshire Dales because he thought countryside crime would be less intense than city crime and allow him to slow down. He discovers, however, there is as much greed, deception and adultery in his new territory as anywhere else, leading to someone’s violent murder. This time it’s a former lecturer from the University of Leeds found buried in a stone wall. The suspects include the historian’s group of pub friends — the eminent local doctor, a writer of cheap thrillers and an untrustworthy land developer — as well as his editor and a 20-something folk singer. There’s also the dead man’s wife and his sizable, recent inheritance to be considered. 

But everyone tells Chief Inspector Banks this intelligent historian and role model, who was dedicated to his work, didn’t have an enemy in the world. Ironically, though, someone murdered him, so what gives? It’s just the kind of twist that charges up Robinson’s brisk style, along with smartly drawn characters that challenge the detective everywhere he turns.

Banks’ charming, savvy wife, Sandra, appears less often in A Dedicated Man than in Gallows View, and there is only one mention of psychologist Jenny Fuller, who caused Banks’ heart to go all a flutter in Gallows View. I still have a feeling Jenny is going to be back, with greater romantic consequences. And a humorous touch: Banks tries to kick his cigarette habit these days with a pipe, which he thinks will be good for his image. The darn thing won’t cooperate half the time, however, and then he breaks it. Banks barely takes a clean breath before he’s bumming cigarettes from the suspects and fellow investigators.

Next up is A Necessary End. I look forward to more time with Robinson’s persistent, shrewd and thoughtful detective, who always manages to get into lively conversations with colorful characters in his pursuit of the truth.  While the ending of A Dedicated Man is not a shocking surprise, it’s a very clever one, as Banks realizes: “Eliminate the impossible and whatever is left, however improbable, must be the truth. Or so Sherlock Holmes had said.”

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