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Strange Affair

by Peter Robinson

Strange Affair, the 15th novel from Toronto crime writer Peter Robinson to feature Inspector Alan Banks, begins four months after the climactic events of Playing with Fire. With his cottage, and his life, in ashes, Banks has isolated himself from friends and co-workers. He is drinking heavily, smoking again, and has cut himself off from the pleasures of music and fine wine that have so long sustained him. Banks heads to London to discover why his estranged brother Roy – a businessman who had made a good living on the cusp between ethical and criminal – has left a vague and disturbing message on his answering machine, only to find that Roy has disappeared.

While Banks burrows into his brother’s life looking for clues, his frequent partner, Annie Cabbot, is investigating the murder of a beautiful young woman found dead in her car on a quiet stretch of road. Banks’s name and address are found in the woman’s pocket, but when Cabbot tries to find him, Banks himself seems to have disappeared.

Strange Affair is a worthy addition to the Robinson/Banks canon, a series that shows no sign of flagging. Book by book, Banks becomes a more interesting character – heroically flawed, sometimes petty and headstrong, but oddly likeable for all that. His confrontation with the secrets of his brother’s life in Strange Affair casts a further light on the inspector’s character: neither he, nor readers, are likely to be comfortable with what he sees in himself. Cabbot is almost as interesting a character despite receiving less of the limelight, and Banks’s fellow officers are coming into sharper, revealing focus.

As a crime writer, Robinson nicely bridges the British and American styles, arriving at a unique form that presses the boundaries of the procedural while avoiding the trite rogueishness so familiar from south of the border. While some of the elements and subplots of Strange Affair will be a bit obvious to mystery readers, the novel surprises throughout. As he has demonstrated over the course of his career, Robinson has no compunction about allowing the brutalities of life and criminal actions to directly affect Banks and those dear to him.

By the time of the surprising climax and the shocking denouement, most readers will be shaking their heads in sympathy with Banks, and wondering, as they have for 14 previous books, what comes next.