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by Peter Robinson
McClelland & Stewart, May 2006
392 pages
ISBN: 0771076096

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We begin in 1969, when DI Stanley Chadwick must investigate the stabbing of a young girl, found in a sleeping bag on the edge of the site of the first (and last) ever Brimleigh Festival. The sea change of the 1960s is finally washing up on the fringes of Yorkshire, bringing with it great music and, more troublingly for DI Chadwick, challenges to a settled and established way of life and, in this case, the kind of violence that has heretofore been rare in the countryside. Chadwick has a daughter, Yvonne, a bit of a wild child in a minor sort of way, and his worry about her will profoundly affect his conduct of the case.

Shift to the present, and another body, found in rented accommodations in Eastvale. All clues to his identity have been taken and it is some little while before the police can figure out that he is a freelance rock journalist with a particular interest in one of the bands, the Mad Hatters, that played Brimleigh all those years before.

The Hatters are still well known and planning a 40th anniversary concert tour, though reconfigured from the original members, one of whom came to a somewhat mysterious end in an empty swimming pool, and another who seems as mad as the group's name.

Initially, these parallel cases may seem a bit formal, even forced, but gradually what emerges is a grave meditation on the passage of time. Inspector Chadwick at one point must go to Portobello Road, which in 1969 was a centre of seedy bedsits and alternative lifestyles. Indeed, 19-year-old Alan Banks at that very moment was living in one of those bedsits and contemplating his future.

But Chadwick, who served in both the Far East and Europe during the Second World War, remembers the Road as it was when he was in uniform, bomb-scarred, sandbagged, and smelling of ruptured sewage lines. Chadwick's memories and experiences go a long way toward explaining how difficult he finds the emerging new culture expressed by the music played at the Brimleigh Festival and loved by his daughter, and even further to explain why he conducts his investigation as he does.

What happened in 1969 will not be fully understood for 35 years. "If there's one thing I've learned in all my years as a detective," says Banks at one point, "it's that the past is never over..." Indeed, it isn't even past.

One of the great pleasures of this book is the music. Far too often, police procedurals in particular are accompanied with a sound track that has only a marginal relevance to the unfolding plot. Even Robinson has tended in this direction from time to time. But here the music is fully integrated and lovingly recalled.

This reader, indeed, was almost, almost sure she remembered the Mad Hatters and the wholly invented Brimleigh Festival in something of the same way she remembers Altamont. But then, as Robinson observes in his acknowledgements, if you remember the sixties, you weren't there. Like Peter, I was.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, May 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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