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STANDING IN THE SHADOWS
by Peter Robinson
William Morrow, April 2023
368 pages
ISBN: 0062994980


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Had Peter Robinson not died while this book was in production but before it was published, I might have looked at it somewhat differently. That is not to say that I would have liked it less but merely that I might have viewed it as marking a new direction in Banks' life as he ages toward retirement and a peaceful retreat into his music collection. Sadly, however, that is not the case and one is tempted to read more perhaps than was intended in this final chapter in the twenty-eight volume account of Banks' career.

The novel opens with the first-person narrative of Nicholas Hartley, speaking in November, 1980 in Leeds where he is a student in his final year at Leeds University. He relates how he learned of the death of his former girl friend, Alice Poole, informed by some heavy-handed police hoping to close the case with the rapid arrest of a jealous boyfriend. We are then taken to another November in 2019, when an archaeologist tasked with ensuring that no historically significant items would perish as the dig for a new shopping centre proceeds finds herself confronted with a human skull and the police called in. Unfortunately the skull is of little historical interest. It did not belong to anyone like Richard III, who died in the 15th century and lay peacefully under a public carpark until the 21st. This skull was contemporary and quite possibly the result of a murderous attack.

Enter DCI Alan Banks and his team and from there the narrative alternates between the present and the past as Hartley continues his story of Alice's death and his life thereafter. Both threads are marked by a palpable sense of loss. For Nick, it is the loss of Alice and, at least briefly, the loss of his own place in the world as he is suspected not only of having killed Alice but of being the serial killer called the Yorkshire Ripper, whose activities had frightened inhabitants of the area for several years.

Banks and his team go about their professional tasks with their characteristic competence even though they too are dealing with difficult losses. Banks is mourning his good friend, the artist Ray Cabot who has recently died, and the entire team is missing Annie Cabot, his daughter, who is on personal leave. Some readers might be missing Zelda, Ray's somewhat exotic partner, who has left the scene for compelling reasons.

This does not mean that STANDING IN THE SHADOWS is a gloomy book. It isn't. On the contrary, it is a reflective one and one that gives the reader a glimpse less perhaps of the young Alan Banks than of the young Peter Robinson. Although Nick Hartley was attending Leeds University at the end of the 1970s while Peter Robinson would have been there at the beginning of that decade, it feels as though the author is drawing heavily on his memories of that time of his life, with all its doubts and successes. One cannot help but wonder if Robinson had been contemplating returning his protagonist to the early days of his life as a policeman.

It feels as though this final chapter in the career of Alan Banks was intended as a transitional one. Banks is not getting any younger, mandatory retirement looms, and he has become a rather solitary figure, less estranged from his family than simply separate from its members. Where the series might have gone thereafter is difficult to say but a sense of impending end hangs over the last two items in the series, expressed even in their titles: NOT DEAD YET and STANDING IN THE SHADOWS. What does remain is formidable - twenty-eight engaging novels just inviting the reader to follow the direction of the final sentence of this last Inspector Banks.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, April 2023

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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