Saturday, January 12, 2013

Peter Robinson "Gallows View"

Given the number of Peter Robinson titles sitting on the shelves he’s always been a candidate for a read them in sequence operation, so I’ve been watching the el cheapo bins for a while, and with the early titles pretty well covered early 2013 seemed like a good time to start on the time trip back through the Chief Inspector Banks series.

The interesting part in such exercises is always checking how fully formed the characters are from the get-go, and how subsequent developments and long term players are brought into play.

Six months after his relocation from London, Banks, his wife and two kids are, on the surface, pretty comfortably settled into the new surroundings. Sandra mightn’t be overly happy about the change, but has her interest in photography to keep her going, and it’s an interest that contributes to one of the plot lines, and the two kids seem fairly contented, or as contented as the teenage offspring of a policeman who works long and irregular hours can be expected to be.

Which leaves Banks, still finding his way in his new station while a peeping tom sets about spreading alarm through the women of Eastvale, a series of break and enters keeps the constabulary busy and the death of an elderly woman needs to be investigated because it could be murder.

There’s every chance these three strands are going to end up intertwined, and, of course, they are, since two of them tie into the street that gives the novel its name.

Along the way we’re introduced to the two young thugs who are responsible for the break-ins, as well as the young, attractive female psychologist who is recruited to assist in building a personality profile of the surreptitious voyeur. There is, after all, the possibility that his activities may escalate beyond just looking, and given the demands of their respective jobs Banks and Jenny Fuller meet to discuss these matters over a jar or two in the evenings, a situation you might suspect is likely to escalate into intimacy (and it’s not as if Banks isn’t tempted) that also contributes to the way things shake out in the end.

Right from the start Chief Inspector Banks comes across as an intriguing character, perceptive, innately curious and displaying a degree of compassion you might have expected a stint in the city to knock out of him. Perhaps it was the fear of such a development that prompted his move to the Yorkshire Dales in search of a quieter lifestyle.

Having arrived there and settled in, the wave of break and enters are a pain in the neck, though Banks picks (correctly) a couple of likely suspects fairly easily, but the peeping tom is creating issues with the local feminists, who allege police insensitivity to the issue means they’re not pursuing the peeper as vigorously as they might. That, in turn explains the decision to bring the feminist psychologist into the equation.

The burglaries may have escalated into murder when the body of 87-year-old Alice Matlock is found in her home, which has been ransacked. The problem there is that there’s a concurrent sighting of the peeper in the same vicinity, which poses an interesting bracket of questions that need answers.

As it turns out there’s another explanation for Alice’s death, which wasn’t caused by an escalation of the peeper’s intent or a burglary gone wrong, but finding the explanation requires an escalation of the peeper’s intent and a burglary that turns into rape and provides the key that unlocks the whole tangled tale.

The book itself, first published as far back as 1987, is fairly obviously a first effort in a planned series, with things being set in place for sequels, with some fairly obvious generic elements but there’s a sense of place and the characters work fairly well. Banks is a likeable character, the dialogue is tight and believable and while you could pick on a number of cliches there’s obviously enough potential there for the author to keep going and the reader to stay involved.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Arnaldur Indridason "Black Skies"

Set in pre-crash Iceland in 2005, with Erlendur away on an extended and ominous trip to the east of the country, and Elinborg working on the case described in Outrage, Black Skies has Sigurdur Óli drawn into what appears, at first to be a rather straightforward case of blackmail gone wrong.

Approached by Patrekur, an old school friend, Sigurdur Óli is inveigled into delivering some unofficial assistance to help Patrekur's sister-in-law, who has political ambitions, and her husband, who are allegedly being blackmailed after becoming involved in a wife-swapping circle. Sigurdur Óli visits the blackmailers' home, blundering into the middle of a brutal attack, which subsequently develops into a murder investigation.

That investigation is the strand that holds the story together, but as you'd expect there are other elements that interact with it, including Sigurdur Óli's breakup with his long-time partner and the actions of Anders, a derelict alcoholic who regularly appears at the police station, looking for Erlendur and babbling about an evil man who has ruined his life and although the priggish Sigurdur Óli has little sympathy for such people he is drawn into an attempt to help him.

Sigurdur Óli has never been a likeable character, but as that strand unfolds it does so in a manner that explains his personal quirks, though you don't (or, at least, I didn't) find yourself liking the man.

But you can understand why he is that way, which is something, and a little more than can be said for the real villains behind the main plot line, some of the lesser players among the new Vikings, who are driving Iceland's on paper economic boom that's on the verge of going bust, ruining the country's economy and the lives of many of its citizens.