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CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION
by Peter Robinson
McClelland & Stewart, September 2013
400 pages
$29.95 CDN
ISBN: 0771076304


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Authors who begin a police procedural series face an immediate problem, at least if the series proves successful. Either they allow their protagonist to age normally, which means, sooner or later, that their hero will have to succumb to compulsory retirement or they can slow the ageing process to a crawl, which means that in the fullness of time they find themselves on the brink of writing an historical novel. Peter Robinson has not done quite the one or the other - Alan Banks is ageing (and he is beginning to feel it in the present book) but Robinson is playing it a bit coy about his actual age. He's in his 50s, but just where is not certain.

The death he is called upon to investigate is that of a rough contemporary of his, the disgraced Gavin Miller, former college professor sacked for sexual harassment of two of his female students four years previously. Miller had been living a reclusive life until he is found dead on a disused railway track, apparently the victim of a drunken accident or a suicide. But the impoverished former prof does have 5000 in his pocket and there are no explanations of where he got it.

There are two routes to follow, both leading to Miller's past - more or less immediately to Eastvale College and, further back, forty years or so, to Essex University, where he had once been a student as had someone he'd recently called on his mobile phone, Lady Veronica Chambers, who, it turns out, had been a student at the same institution at the same time. Following her student days and before she married a baronet, Ronnie Bellamy, as she then was, established herself as a writer of upscale romances under another name. Now, at 59, she looks about 40, lives in a large house, is married to a famous theatrical producer, and has charmed the socks off Banks.

As Banks and his team attempt to find out who possibly might have murdered Gavin Miller, Banks in particular must tread very carefully, since, as you might imagine, Lady Chambers has friends in high places. Luckily, since treading lightly is not in her nature, Annie Cabbot is rooting around among the more recent Eastvale College connections. But it is the youngest member of the team, Gerry Masterson, who, while interviewing other students who were at Essex in the 70s, is treated to a vivid recollection of those days of student ferment and miners' strikes.

Banks too is reminded of those heady days when he interviews a retired and now dying former official in the National Union of Mineworkers, someone who was second only to Arthur Scargill. He recalls the other part of that period of unrest and political upheaval, the working-class counterbalance to middle-class student left-wing political theorizing. Banks, who is of that generation himself, was at the time rather on the fringe of it all, a lower-middle-class lad from Peterborough, at college and becoming educated beyond his friends back home, cut off from his class and from his roots, to become further removed once he enters the force.

While the actual killer remains something of a surprise, the general outlines of the crime - the motivation in particular - can be readily inferred. But what marks this out as one of the better in the series is exactly these reflections on the past. Banks is at the point where he must either accept compulsory retirement in the fairly near future or pursue a promotion that will stave off the choice for a few years. He is a lonely man and one who cannot really imagine his life without his job. But he is also weary of his alienation and of the dreadful things he encounters as a regular part of his occupation. The past is a country full of worthy dreams and unfulfilled promise, the future promising very little. The epigraph to the novel is from Marx: "The past lies like a nightmare upon the present," which does indeed make a certain amount of sense in view of how the novel is structured. But the emotional weight of the evocation of the early 70s is more closely allied to the T. Rex lyric which provides the title: "But you won't fool the children of the revolution." Banks will not be fooled, but that's not going to make him any happier.

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

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, September 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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