Book review: Watching the Dark by Peter Robinson

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He’s still soothed by Bach and still drives his shabby Porsche – but intimations of his own mortality are starting to ruffle the equanimity of Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks.

Banks is also used to wrestling with his own personal demons, a good preparation for the down-to-earth Yorkshire cop as he follows the labyrinthine trail of some truly evil ‘cons’ in Peter Robinson’s latest crime mystery.

People trafficking, a missing teenage girl, migrant labour scams, the back streets of Estonia’s capital city and a murdered policeman provide the sleazy backdrop to this subtle and intriguing thriller.

Watching the Dark is Robinson’s 20th DCI Banks novel and, far from losing the plot, the master crime writer continues to seduce with his finely-tuned storylines, gritty cast of characters and hard-hitting, contemporary themes.

The ITV1 series DCI Banks, adapted from Robinson’s novels and starring Stephen Tompkinson and Andrea Lowe, has raised the profile of the books to a new level.

Here we find the tough inspector investigating the death of ‘one of our own’ when the body of DI Bill Quinn, from the Leeds force, is found in the tranquil grounds of a St Peter’s Police Convalescence and Treatment Centre.

He has been shot through the heart with the bolt from a crossbow after appearing distracted and edgy, ‘as if he was carrying a burden,’ the previous evening.

Compromising photos of Quinn with a very young woman are found in his room but Banks is not convinced about their authenticity and wants to probe further into the murdered man’s background, knowing only too well that the solution to a crime ‘more often than not lies in the victim’s character.’

Because of the possibility of police corruption, he is assigned an officer from Professional Standards, aka the ‘rat squad,’ to work closely with him. Inspector Joanna Passero, the epitome of blonde coolness and feminine wiles, is soon on his case and Banks finds himself and his methods under scrutiny.

With the help of DS Annie Cabbott, who is back at work after a near-fatal injury, Banks discovers that Quinn had been briefly involved with the case of 19-year-old British girl Rachel Hewitt who went missing on a hen party weekend in Tallinn, Estonia, six years ago and has never been found.

She seems to be the key to solving Quinn’s murder and when a migrant worker from Estonia is found dead in a dilapidated Yorkshire farmhouse, Banks, with Passero in tow, sets off for Tallinn to try to unearth the truth.

As the action shifts back and forth between Tallinn and Yorkshire, it soon becomes clear that the crimes are linked in more ways than Banks imagined, and that solving them may put even more lives in jeopardy.

Robinson puts his searching spotlight on the corruption, greed and ruthlessness that feed the people trafficking business and those who prey on the vulnerable in this fast-paced, gripping tale of our times.

Uncompromising, complex and compelling...

(Hodder & Stoughton, hardback, £18.99)