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by Peter Robinson
McClelland & Stewart, August 2012
416 pages
$29.99 CAD
ISBN: 0771076479

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

When veteran detective Bill Quinn* is discovered early one morning on the grounds of a rehabilitation centre for injured and ailing police, kneeling, bent over and appearing like "a grotesque parody of a Muslim at prayer," with a crossbow bolt through his chest, it need hardly be said that a thorough and rigorous investigation is immediately launched. Attention first turns on those collared by Quinn who might still both be harbouring a grudge and have a taste for unusual murder weapons, but fairly rapidly it emerges that respected though Quinn was, he might have had a shadier side that would have a bearing on his fate.

As the treatment centre is in DCI Alan Banks's patch, he is rapidly in charge of the case, but finds himself having to share responsibilities with Inspector Joanna Passero from Professional Standards (aka the rat squad). This does not make him at all happy. What does please him, however, is that Annie Cabot has recovered sufficiently from her dangerous injuries to come back to work. Banks is especially intrigued by an unsolved case from Quinn's past - the disappearance of Rachel Hewitt, a local girl who went with friends on a hen party to Talinn, Estonia some years ago and never returned. Quinn had been in contact with an Estonian journalist just before he was killed. The journalist himself is then found murdered. Could there be a connection to the Hewitt case that everyone says had haunted Bill?

While Annie stays in Eastvale following where the journalist's murder leads her (exploited immigrant labour, loan sharking, and the like), Banks gets to go to Talinn, along with Joanna Passero. The narrative unfolds in parallel strands, taking the reader from Eastvale to Talinn and back in rapidly alternating sections. Along the way, the reader is treated to a capsule guide to the Estonian capital, which appears to have more charms than one might have anticipated.

Perhaps it's merely because Robinson's last book, the standalone BEFORE THE POISON, was so engaging that I found this one quite a disappointment. The two cases were almost arbitrarily linked and the Eastvale murder seemed invented largely to get Alan to Talinn, where he otherwise would have no business going. Robinson evidently taught a summer school session in crime writing last year and clearly fell for the city, which does indeed sound very charming if you overlook the roving gangs of drunken British teenagers on cheap weekend breaks.

One cannot help wondering whether Robinson is not contemplating retiring his sturdy protagonist. This is the third book in a row in which Banks has been sprung loose from Eastvale, a place where he appears less and less happy to be. The various reorganizations in the police service are irritating and he seems to have a bit of trouble dealing with superior officers who are female. He is growing increasingly testy. There is a faint air of melancholy invading his inner thoughts. He's largely switched from single malt to red wine. Even the Porsche he inherited from his brother is showing signs of wear and tear.

All the same, those who have been following Alan Banks's career over the span of nineteen books will certainly want to add this twentieth entry in the series. Many of the decided pleasures of the earlier books are still present - the clear and effective prose, the intelligent development of character, the ever-changing playlist that accompanies Banks's solitary moments. And of course Banks has yet to find a permanent love with whom to settle down and grow old. If it turns out to be the icily blonde Joanna Passero from Professional Standards, I will then presume the end has indeed come.

*For some reason, the flap on my copy refers to Quinn as "Reid" throughout, but Quinn he is.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, September 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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