Quill and Quire

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Playing With Fire: An Inspector Banks Mystery

by Peter Robinson

Dawn on a freezing winter morning sees Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks and Detective Inspector Annie Cabbot on a damp Yorkshire canal bank craving coffee and some warmth and wishing they were somewhere else. Banks had been on call at the Western Area Headquarters Major Crimes Office when the word came in from the fire service about a suspicious fire on two canal boats. They also found a couple of bodies.

The two corpses belong to a down-at-heel artist, on whose barge the fire started, and a young female drug addict whose live-in boyfriend is found skulking in the woods near the fire site shortly after the police arrive. He has what appears to be an unshakable alibi, and the investigators begin to pay close attention to the clues from the fire sites and the surrounding area. When the lurking boyfriend accuses the girl’s father of sexual interference with his now-dead teenage daughter, the possibilities open even wider.

The reader peers over the investigator’s shoulders through post-mortems, detailed forensic examinations, and interviews with suspects. What emerges is a shadowy picture of child abuse and the prospect of some art forgery with the connivance of a local antiquarian bookseller. The pace picks up with another fire, this time in an isolated caravan, where an unemployed office supplies dealer dies.

Playing With Fire is a well-paced and nicely detailed detective tale that gives the reader a fair chance to solve the various crimes along with the detectives before the satisfying finale. All the clues are available, sometimes obliquely concealed, and delivered without the startling coincidences that sometimes mar detective novels. Another Robinson winner.