Saturday, June 1, 2013

Peter Robinson Friend of the Devil

Typical, really. Having watched the DCI Banks episode based on Playing With Fire I figured I’d read Friend of the Devil before watching the adaption, and found I probably needed to reread two more Robinson titles, one of which appeared at the time to be a non-Banks title.

This, of course, comes after putting the reread them all in order (I’d only covered the first title, so it wasn’t as if that had progressed too far) project on hold while I watched the adaptions. Having recently read (or having your review available to consult) Aftermath (five titles earlier in the Banks sequence) and Caedmon’s Song (the non-Banks title that goes back well before the two Banks titles) probably isn’t totally necessary, but since the two stories link into what’s going on here it’d help keep things tidy.

The link to Aftermath, #12 in the series (this is # 17) is pretty clear from very early in the piece since Karen Drew, the quadriplegic victim found on an isolated cliff near Whitby still sitting in a wheelchair with her throat slit turns out to be Lucy Payne, the partner in crime of Terrence Payne, the perpetrator of a series of sadistic crimes committed against girls lured to what was later dubbed The House of Payne. He died of injuries inflicted in the process of apprehending him, while Lucy jumped through a window and damaged her spine while trying to escape arrest.

Until the previous identity is revealed there’s nothing obvious about Karen’s past that would explain the murder because, basically, when Annie Cabbot starts digging around looking for a motive, there isn’t much of a past. The cover story has Karen Drew left in the wheelchair as the result of a car crash, and it’s the search for motives for her murder that leads Annie to the firm of lawyers who looked after her affairs and provided the cover story.

Explaining away a quadriplegic’s background would seem to be a fairly straightforward affair if the person you’re doing it for is unable to communicate or do anything to blow the cover story, but someone seems to have let the cat out of the bag. That breach of security, wherever it was, has allowed an alleged acquaintance called Mary to sign Karen/Lucy out the nursing home and do away with her, leaving the body to be found by some innocent passer by.

DI Annie Cabbot has been temporarily seconded to Eastern Area Headquarters, and seems, on the surface at least, to be in severe danger of unravelling completely.  The phone call that alerts her to the murder finds her waking in a strange bed after a one-night stand with a much younger man and she’s self-medicating like it’s going out of style almost throughout the investigation.

And the same Mothers' Day morning Chief Inspector Alan Banks, with his only scheduled commitment being the obligatory call to Mum has his leisurely morning interrupted by a phone call from Detective Inspector Kevin Templeton reporting the discovery of a scantily clad nineteen-year-old girl’s body in The Maze, a complex tangle of narrow cobbled alleyways behind the market square in Eastvale, right across the Market Square from the Eastvale police station.

Eastvale College student Hayley Daniels may have been attractive, with any number of admirers, but she’s also inclined towards outrageous behaviour, which means she’s not going to wait till her friends arrive at the next location before voiding the bladder after a group of yobs trashed the toilets at The Fountain. After giving the bartender a mouthful she departs, along with the rest of her party, announces she’s going to relieve herself in the warren of alleys. Her partly clad body is found in the storeroom of a leather goods shop when the proprietor opens it in search of offcuts the next morning and Banks finds himself looking at rape and murder on an alcohol-fuelled Saturday nigh with any number of suspects, from the crowd she’d been partying with, through older men who had ogled her at the pub (including the one who found the body) to a lecturer at the college.

The closed circuit TV footage shows Hayley entering the Maze on her own, and a scan of the earlier images fails to reveal anyone entering the area earlier, though there is another entrance where the camera coverage isn’t as good. On that basis, the obvious conclusion is that there’s someone lurking in there waiting for a victim, Jack the Ripper style, and as far as Kevin Templeton’s concerned that’s where the explanation lies.

Crass, uncouth, insensitive with a hide equivalent to a rhinoceros, and more front than your average supermarket, Templeton has managed to get everyone he works with, apart from Banks who’s still 50/50 on him, and decides to conduct a one-man stakeout in The Maze, a decision that ends up costing him his life. His death, however, brings the two cases together since he’s found with throat is slashed from behind a la Lucy/Karen.

The answer to the Lucy/Karen/Templeton side of things turns out to lie in the 1989 disappearance of a man believed to be the serial rapist and killer of half a dozen young (the main plot line of an earlier non-Banks title, Caedmon’s Song). Along with the disappearance there’s an unsolved death and a vicious attack, and all three happened in and around Whitby.

At this point, again, we’re teetering on the brink of spoiler territory, but we knew the two main investigations were going to merge, because Robinson has them unfolding in parallel, switching back and forth between the two from paragraph to paragraph rather than chapter to chapter. In a lesser writer this approach could become confusing, but Robinson has the writerly chops to make it work, and the close to seamless integration of the twin narratives provide the chance to drive the soap opera side of things on a bit further.

In the big picture Friend of the Devil is as much about the long-lasting aftereffects of physical and psychological trauma and serious crime on both victims and survivors as it is about the two cases and when the cases are finally solved it’s hard to disagree with the explanation offered by Lucy/Karen’s killer for what would seem to be a cruel and totally unnecessary killing. That’s not to suggest I’m inclined to agree, either, but it’s one of those situations where you can see where they’re coming from.

That sort of big picture dark side of human emotions and motivations can become very heavy very quickly, which is why we need the light and shade that comes with the soap opera interactions of the regular cast of characters. Banks and Annie are still feeling the fallout from their emotional entanglement, Banks is still rebuilding his life and getting over the aftermath of Playing With Fire and there are little subplots involving Jamaican Detective Constable Winsome Jackman, Detective Sergeant Kevin Templeton (the wake following his death catches the rather complex web of emotions surrounding his death rather well) and Banks' demanding boss, Superintendent Catherine Gervaise.

Bring all those strands together and the result is an absorbing read that maintains the suspense right up to the end and left me interested to see how the transition to the small screen was going to be managed.

No comments:

Post a Comment