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Cold Is the Grave: An Inspector Banks Mystery

by Peter Robinson

Over 10 previous books I’ve been a dyed-in-the-wool fan of Chief Inspector Alan Banks and closely followed the Yorkshire policeman’s caseload, colleagues, and evolving life. My hopes for the 11th episode of the Banks chronicle, however, dropped slightly on the first page, when the plot is launched with an almost incredible coincidence – an eight-year old boy just happening upon nude pictures of his teenage sister among the millions of available pages on the World Wide Web. The improbabilities in Cold is the Grave mount when it transpires that the girl is the daughter of Banks’ disliked boss, Chief Constable Riddle; Riddle wants his least favourite staff member to trace and rescue the girl outside his formal responsibilities; and Banks agrees. This storyline is more redolent of Shakespearean or Gilbert and Sullivan fantasies than contemporary detective fiction.

The mission is accomplished – the girl is rescued from a London gangster and resettled into drug-free family life – but all is far from well for the Riddles. As their problems increase, Banks becomes further involved in their affairs, but this time in the official capacity of a murder investigation.

This is a new edgier Banks than in previous books. Whether it’s his wife’s departure for another man, his own middle-aged uncertainties, his seeming decline in maturity, or the gulf between him and his two children, Banks has changed – and not for the better. He is now overly prone to smug and dismissive comments and a judgmental approach to lifestyles unlike his own. His thoughts and observations often come across as whiny and self-centred. Portrayals of young people in the book are sketchy and unconvincing, and Banks’s dealings with them are more those of a middle-aged curmudgeon than a father of two children.

For the first time in this series my interest flagged, as the text offered insufficient action or interest for its length. The result is one of the weakest and least satisfying of this previously excellent series.