The epitome of drear

2011-02-16 00:00

THE biggest mystery about this new Chief Inspector Alan Banks “mystery-suspense” novel is what appears on the cover.

On the front Peter Robinson is trumpeted as the “Number one bestselling author”. On the back Stephen King (well, even he must have off days) says the Alan Banks tales are, “simply put, the best series on the market”. Weird, because between the two covers is the epitome of drear.

Particularly boring (or perhaps particularly risible) for readers in South Africa, where guns have been a way of life for so many and for so long, are the opening chapters in which an old friend of Banks, Juliet Doyle, reports to Detective Inspector Annie Cabbot that she has discovered a gun hidden in her daughter Erin’s bedroom.

Cabbot is as aghast as if the world were ending. Huge teams of police weapons specialists must go to the scene at once, observing weapons protocols to the letter, and when the little handgun is retrieved there are great gasps of relief.

The over-the-topness of all this almost makes one forget that guns are dangerous and need to be treated with respect and according to the law, so much so that really one couldn’t care less about how this one got there. Interest revives somewhat when it’s revealed that Erin shares a flat with Banks’s daughter, Tracy, and is involved with the “bad boy” of the title, a good-looking, dangerous type of mysterious origins.

When it looks as if the police are onto him he persuades Tracy to accompany him on the run. This might all have been okay if Tracy had been a sympathetic, like­able character, and if the bad boy had had charm. Instead, she’s null and void, he’s dull and unpleasant, and the action plays out on Banks’s return from holiday against the background of an England so dank and grubby, cheap and nasty, that one wonders how Robinson (or anyone else) can bear to live there.

Time for Robinson to hang up his pen and live on the royalties from the early Banks novels, some of which were really good. No more, please.

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