Reviewed by Gerard Healy
In this, the 26th installment of the DCI Banks series, author Peter Robinson displays his usual deft touch with the police procedural.
The novel has two stories, seemingly unrelated, running side by side. In the main one, Detective Superintendent Alan Banks and his team are trying to solve a murder in the north of England. In the other one, we follow Zelda, who is a survivor of years of abuse as a sex slave. She is now a consultant to the police in London and she looks into the unusual death of her boss at the National Crime Authority.
The main story touches on refugees, the drug trade and the ruthless world of organized criminals. The second one also has organized criminals, plying their odious trafficking of women and girls across European borders. Both feature dangerous villains and webs of corruption that reach across all strata of society.
Alan Banks is called in with the discovery of the body of a young teenage boy, who appears to be of middle-eastern appearance. They have no ID to go on initially and the motive for his murder seems unclear as well. Three businessmen with dubious reputations, who were dining nearby at the time of the crime, come into the picture.
Banks, along with his two female colleagues, DI Annie Cabbot and DC Gerry Masterson, follow up the slender leads to identify the victim. Another death of an older heroin addict nearby throws another complication into the mix. Are the crimes related? Are drugs involved in both cases? Robinson outlines the methods used by gangs to supply their addicts; young men sent from a nearby city with a mobile phone number using a derelict housing estate as their temporary base.
The second story features Zelda, an attractive 31-year-old, troubled by the death of her boss in a house fire in London. Because she alone is aware of a link between her late boss and an underworld figure from her Eastern European past, she begins a risky investigation into this dangerous corrupt world.
There are at least two unusual aspects to Zelda: she has an amazing talent as a super recognizer of faces and she is such a determined, resourceful seeker on her brave/ foolhardy quest. Robinson has seemingly cloned a Modesty Blaise figure in Zelda, but she is without a Willy Gavin to ride to the rescue. However, she does happen to be a personal friend of Alan Banks. This friendship helps to loosely tie the two stories together.
The tension builds when Zelda tracks down one of her kidnappers and sets about stalking him. The outcome of that encounter leaves Robinson with a new plot-line for his next novel.
While Banks, with his family and work colleagues, is a more rounded character, Zelda is more one-dimensional. She is a woman determined on her version of justice. We are given another insight into Bank’s moral character when Zelda stays overnight at his cottage.
Robinson is good at fleshing out the other characters as well, from the cocky businessman who is flirting with the Albanian gangs to the female Detective Constable learning the ropes of criminal investigation. Another well-drawn one is the ex-boxer who drives for a dodgy property developer. While not exactly a clean-skin, he does have a moral code.
A Neighbourhood Watch group leader comes into the picture and Robinson uses him to look at community in its various forms. The gulf between the haves and the have-nots is expanded on through some of the characters’ attitudes to welfare dependents and their higher risk housing estates.
I would recommend this book to readers for its plotting, pace and build-up of tension. The switching between stories works effectively as well. Fans of the Banks’ series won’t be disappointed and new readers should enjoy their encounter with a long running team of detectives in a contemporary setting.
Peter Robinson was born and grew up in Yorkshire, England. He now spends time between Richmond and Canada, where he has won six Arthur Ellis awards for the best crime novel of the year. His DCI Banks series have won awards in several countries and have been translated into many languages. A major ITV1 drama based on the books and starring Stephen Tompkinson and Andrea Lowe has been successful around the world as well.
Many Rivers to Cross
by Peter Robinson
Hodder & Stoughton
384 pp; $32.99