Reviewed by Ian Lipke
It is still largely true that if you want a carefully-contrived, slow-moving but inexorable crime story you look among the British writers. Largely true, because there are plenty of ‘duds’ there too. Peter Robinson is among the good ones. Sleeping in the Ground is a cracker.
Peter Robinson is a Yorkshire lad whose time these days is spent between Richmond UK and Canada. His critically acclaimed DCI Banks novels have won numerous awards in Britain, the United States, Canada and Europe and are well patronised by Australian readers. The novels have continued to be published all over the world and his protagonists Banks and DI Annie Cabbot figure in several major television productions. He is a highly skilled writer and has received deserved success. This is the twenty-fourth in the DCI Banks series.
Sleeping in the Ground is Robinson running true to form. Ten shots from a sniper hidden in deep cover devastates a wedding party. The manhunt that follows establishes the identity of the shooter and the grim tale seems to be over. But Banks begins to question why a most unlikely man should suddenly commit murder. Serious Robinson readers know at once that they’re in for a hefty dose of psychological insights that will be tied in one form or another to Banks himself.
When the book opens Banks is struggling with the death of Emily, a very close former friend. Complicating his situation is the return into his life of a profiler Jenny Fuller with whom he had once been very close. Banks and Annie Cabbot together with a junior colleague Gerry Masterson have to find their way through forensic and psychological strands that weave together the strands that are always present in a Robinson novel but are also always very tricky to find. Digging through the lives of the victims is soul-destroying work but gradually a picture of hatred and vengeance long denied places one member of the team in peril before the identity of the true murderer is revealed.
The plot is deceptively simple but is much more complex than it appears. The characters in the novel, while very well known to Robinson’s readers, have their own idiosyncrasies that set them apart from their fellows. Cabbot is focused as always but plays a relatively minor part in the investigation, although her father is a key player. Gerry Masterson is given a full role to play and is fierce in her determination to sort things out without worrying too much about protocol and working as a member of a team. She is an individualist who puts in the hard yards and, to her credit, keeps Banks and his superior officer, Assistant Commissioner Gervase, au fait with what she is doing. She has developed a selective ear.
However, Banks is the familiar figure first encountered by me in Children of the Revolution in 2013. He is competent, a broad, comprehensive thinker rather than a spirited, quixotic one. He is more likely to make his judgments based on the experience he has gained on the job. He will weigh the probabilities of the outcomes of actions before he implements what usually turns out to be the correct course. He forms personal relationships that from time to time lead nowhere because he is blind to the hints his lovers drop in his path. Both Jenny Fuller, an old flame who departed to the other side of the world, and Julie Drake, Emily’s friend who stayed with her as she died from cancer, point out his obtuseness at different points in this novel. Robinson has created a multilayered creature in Banks. This makes him interesting because he is anything but obtuse in solving crime.
In this book Robinson annoys me in the same way he did in the earlier book. We hear the names and pedigree of virtually every piece of music that Banks ever plays and we are subjected to the identification of every piece of food that Banks and his companion at the time decide to consume. Gastronomic delights for Robinson (and no doubt for a large percentage of his fans) but indigestion and heartburn for this reviewer.
Peter Robinson’s books are respected across the crime reading public of the world. He has earned the bouquet and I continue to absorb with interest each book that I can lay my hands on. An excellent writer indeed.
By Peter Robinson