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In a Dry Season: An Inspector Banks Mystery

by Peter Robinson

Arthur Ellis Award-winner Peter Robinson offers a two-track package in his latest Inspector Banks mystery. While we follow Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks through his investigation of a 50-year-old murder, the real story emerges in alternating chapters of italicized excerpts from a long-buried manuscript. The italics strain the eyes, but otherwise the technique works.

This is an English village yarn, with a twist. Hobb’s End was a tranquil place where nothing much happened. After the war it was abandoned so the area could be flooded to make a reservoir. But drought came to the Yorkshire Dales and Hobb’s End re-emerged, revealing the skeleton of a woman who disappeared in the mid-1940s.

Enter Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks, a copper going nowhere because he punched his chief constable. Despondent over work and a failed marriage, Banks believes getting the assignment is just more punishment. He’s given rebellious Detective Sergeant Annie Cabbot as his assistant, a development that makes him suspicious. The dead-end case turns out to be anything but, and Banks and Cabbot are soon hitting the headlines and the sheets. Banks the brilliant detective isn’t exactly a red-hot lover, but he bumbles along. Cabbot, a cool beauty on the outside, has some serious baggage in her background. Their future together is not a sure thing, but there is strong mutual attraction.

This story lacks the crackling suspense that is Robinson’s trademark. There is a clear link to the present, but it’s hard to imbue a 50-year-old murder with an aura of immediate menace. However, his depiction of village life, the war years, and the conservative society of the times is compelling. The plotting is intricate. The domestic woes of Inspector Banks have evolved into a subplot that occasionally steals the spotlight, but that’s one of the perils of series writing. The Inspector’s many fans won’t be disappointed with this one.