Chalk up another mystery writer new to me; I suppose I ought not to call him a “new writer”, given how many books he’s got in the Inspector Banks series already. The two I read were In a Dry Season and Strange Affair; I don’t know if I’ll read more, but the short version of why I liked it is that I didn’t feel as if I’d landed in the middle of a series then skipped four books1. I don’t know if I’d feel differently had I read the first books and the intervening ones–the repetition might become annoying.
The series is set in England, and the primary characters seem to be Inspector2 Alan Banks and Detective Sergeant Annie Cabot. As In A Dry Season begins, Inspector Banks is on the outs with his supervisors and is assigned a very cold case: a boy discovers a body, or rather a skeleton, at the bottom of what was a reservoir drained dry by a drought of long standing. The reservoir was created shortly after World War II, flooding what was then an all but deserted village. It may therefore be presumed that the body was placed there shortly before the area was flooded. There is no identification, and no distinguishing marks of note, and the police can’t find any relevant missing persons reports from the approximate time of death. The novel alternates between the modern day police investigation and a first person narrative, set in the village during WWII; I don’t think I’m giving too much away to hint that the two are connected. Strange Affair is a much simpler straightforward investigation, beginning simply with the disappearance of Banks’ younger brother, Roy, and his investigation of same during compassionate leave resulting from the destruction of his cottage, with Cabot’s investigation of the murder of a young woman found dead by the side of the motorway, clutching Banks’ cottage address in her hand–Cabot must not only figure out who killed the girl but why she’s trying to find Banks. The two investigations converge on a sex trade circle stretching between the impoverished war torn Balkan region and England.
What to read next? I’d say try Elizabeth George’s works, not least because that’s the connection that led me to these books; both Robinson and George combine police procedural with character development of the protagonists and interpersonal relationships…and unlike George, he has the two main detectives enter into a more personal relationship. Whether that’s good or bad depends on the readers’ perspective, of course; Banks and Cabot seem to manage the minefield of rank discrepancy well enough.
1which is exactly what I did do.