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Innocent Graves

by Peter Robinson

Blonde and beautiful Deborah Harrison, a 16-year-old student, has been strangled, her almost nude body spread-eagled near an ancient mausoleum. The images appear in a chilling kaleidoscope, drawn with a talent Peter Robinson has honed like few others. Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks of the Eastvale police arrives to take charge, and the game’s afoot, to borrow from the rich canon of British mystery writing.

Robinson’s patented aura of psychopathic menace hangs over this, his eighth Inspector Banks mystery, though the opening scene is less shocking than was the decapitation by shotgun with which he began his 1994 novel, Final Account. This time, however, a shaken Banks goes home and, in a rare display of vulnerability, protectively sips hot chocolate with his own 16-year-old daughter. He ruminates darkly on the loss of innocence in English society, even in North Yorkshire, far from the mean streets of London he left to escape this very kind of crime.

Robinson crafts a tortuous chain of events surrounding what appears at the outset to be a straightforward sex crime. The single thing to raise an eyebrow is that the author uncharacteristically relies on serendipity to explain how Banks’s daughter came to be acquainted with the victim. It is a neat segue into the youth subculture, however, and a small sin of triteness in an otherwise smoothly woven fabric of hidden perversions, clandestine sexual encounters, and overt manipulation – only noticeable at all because Robinson customarily leaves nothing to chance. Following his plots is like traveling through a series of small villages; blink and you could miss something of crucial importance.

Born and raised at Leeds in the Dales, Robinson, 46, came to Canada in 1974. His intimate knowledge of the society and often gloomy weather of northern England lends an extra ring of authenticity to his gritty mysteries.

No award material here, but a compelling yarn nonetheless.