Book review of 'All the Colours of Darkness'

2008-12-17 00:00

Peter Robinson’s early novels featuring Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks often had a mesmeric, gobble-me-down quality seldom encountered in modern detective tales: great writing, original plotting, lively characterisation, irresistible stuff.

Those days are gone, alas, and Robinson’s latest offerings have been pedestrian, partly because he seems to have been trying to phase Banks out and replace him, in suitably politically correct fashion, with Detective Inspector Annie Cabbot. So Banks now has a sexy young girlfriend, Sophia — with whom he’s about to spend an idyllic weekend away — and DI Cabbot has the job of investigating the death of a man found hanging from a tree in Yorkshire’s Hindswell Woods, which seems to have been suicide, except that the dead man, Mark Hardcastle, had led a happy and successful life as a theatre set designer, most recently for the Eastvale Theatre’s production of Othello. But complications set in and Banks is forced to abandon his idyll and return to duty, and to deal with a murky admixture of MI5, MI6, secrets, deceit, and murder as the panacea for every ill.

And that, thank goodness, provides us with glimpses of vintage Robinson and vintage Banks, smooth, intelligent, perceptive, with an unerring instinct for uncovering the darker side of human nature, no matter how assiduously it is concealed. The attempts to weave the central themes and motifs of Othello into the plot — not just the jealousy, but the cunning use of words to persuade and even to brainwash — is less successful, but nonetheless interesting.

A curate’s-egg of a book, and one can’t help thinking rather ruefully that if Robinson weren’t having to struggle to be PC, and to pad his writing out to trade-paperback-bestseller length, he’d still be producing worthwhile and memorable page-turners. Pity.

Stephanie Alexander

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